Work Experience in the Scottish Government

A Work Experience Student from James Hamilton Academy, Kilmarnock writes about ‘life as a Civil Servant’ for a week.

Why politics at 14?

At the age of 14, the Scottish Independence Referendum had a major impact on my outlook on life and my goals. As a strong Yes supporter without a vote I was extremely heartbroken when the results came through and Clackmannanshire set the tone for the night. After the vote, I didn’t give up, I became an activist. Over the last two years I have been extremely interested in politics and have been encouraged to do something about the huge unfairness on the working class of Scotland. I have been trying to improve my political knowledge and experience in any way possible. When I found out about the Fairer Scotland event in Kilmarnock, I knew I just had to go.

I was majorly impressed to hear that Government were going out and about into communities to let them have their say on a Fairer Scotland. When have the government previously journeyed to Kilmarnock to actually listen to the views of the people? I went along with a few friends from Yes East Ayrshire and was really amazed at the set up! I had the image of a formal meeting, suits, rows of seats and hushed silences not tables with sticky notes and pens, people in jeans and t-shirts and to actually have a discussion led by the people who were in the room not someone talking to us.

How did I end up in 5 Atlantic Quay for a week?

Being the youngest person at the event at 15, I felt this gave me an ideal opportunity to give my personal input on issues surrounding the youth and how the Scottish Government could help with this. After giving my views around the table and after some debating with my fellow participators Karen – an amazingly kind, hardworking member of the Social Justice team – mentioned the opportunity to do work experience in the Scottish Government if that would be of interest to me? Obviously I was delighted! I was hugely interested in the work of the Government and thought this would be a great opportunity to really find out.

I arranged my work experience with the school and was shocked at how bad the WorkIt system was for pupils. WorkIt is a ‘web application which provides pupils, school and local authority coordinators and Health and Safety officers with a single point of contact as they plan, prepare and take part in work placements. It ensures that everyone is kept informed and can track their involvement in the work placement programme.’.

It definitely doesn’t do what it says on the tin…….. It has hardly any work experience that related to pupils preferences and also their preferred future aims in relation to jobs. I was one of the extremely lucky pupils who got something which could be useful to them in the future. Most were stuck in Kilmarnock doing jobs such as cleaning a gym and being a barista for a week when they wanted to be a mortician or a graphic designer! I’m also very lucky as I have been able to travel to Glasgow to do this. I was the only pupil allowed to leave the Kilmarnock area! I was lucky I got out without being tagged.

The anticipation, visions and surprises

On the build-up to my first day I had formed a vision in my head of the building being immensely bland, and for the staff to be super formal, smart and very ‘yes minister’ type. Well, what I surprise I got, huge glass tower, funky décor, modern, spacious, good IT equipment and decent grub. And the civil servants of Atlantic Quay wore pink glittery lanywards, jeans, trainers, t-shirts, some suits, dresses, colourful  and even mosher style. All smart but casual and smiling, didn’t think that would happen! Everyone I met was so friendly and happy to talk to you! I was worried that they would look down on me as a working class girl from Ayrshire but it was the complete opposite. I was so lucky to be met with such an amazing team in the Social Justice and Regeneration Division. It was made up by some of the best people you could meet. They were all so welcoming and I felt part of the team straight away.

There was one thing though…

Despite the positives, there were a few things I noticed that I feel needs to be addressed. The lack of ethnic minorities within the government I feel is concerning, it’s an issue in politics in general but also in Scotland and the UK in general. Much more needs to be done to get those who wouldn’t normally be interested in politics or those who are deterred involved. Another thing I noticed was  the lack of those with disabilities within the government. I understand that people from within Government are trying to change these issues and I welcome this and give full support. I felt comfortable enough to feed this back this back to the division who seem to have taken it on board.

Day 1 – Antics and excitement

I was introduced to the House Team and was given a tour around the windowed roasting glass tower. I was happy to hear of the partnership between John Paul Academy, in Summerston, and the Scottish Government. We need more youth involvement in both politics and Government. My favourite part of the day and week was that I met with policy officials from zero hours contracts. I grasped this opportunity with both hands to engage in a debate and give my side of the argument. It was truly a memorable debate and feel that my points were listened to but understood the challenges that Scottish Government face and how difficult it is for them to change things for the better.

Day 2 – Unique Opportunities

On Tuesday my schedule was changed last minute to include a meeting with Jeane Freeman, the new Minister for Social Security. Believe it or not, not many civil servants actually meet the Ministers that they serve let alone having them come in and personally meet their team.

After my introduction to Minister I spoke to the Social Justice Delivery team who focus on food poverty and informed about the government’s plans and actions to help those in need. I was surprised to hear of the work Centrestage does within my area in Ayrshire. I had no idea of the work that went on literally up my street.

Despite not being able to meet those who focus on the Named Persons Act I had the opportunity to email them with questions as this is an area I’m interested in and sceptical on. I was glad that the team I was working with were doing all they could to give me as much experience as possible.

Day 3 – A trip to the Capital

Off to Edinburgh to meet the Elections Team and visit the Young Scot. When Shona – an energetic, spectacular team member with hope and real life experience – and I got to St Andrew’s House we spoke with the Team Leader of the elections team who Shona used to work with. She informed me about the work they do but also that the day was unique due to the issue of the registration to vote in the EU referendum had crashed and they had to prepare for the possibility of it coming up in First Ministers Questions. The whole building was buzzing and a bit more stressed than usual.  It really was a unique experience for anyone in Government but as an ‘outsider’ it was fascinating.

Next stop was to find out about the work of Young Scot as I had no idea of all the work they done.  Most young people my age just know about the card and the discounts available but I don’t feel that they truly showcase the other amazing work that they do. They do a lot of great stuff such as day schools and giving young people the opportunity to work in teams to create new innovative ideas.

Day 4 – My 15 minutes of fame

On day one and within an hour of starting they asked if I would be willing to deliver a presentation on my working week. It was to be delivered at a Divisional meeting and I had the scope to deliver it however was most comfortable for me. I chose just to talk and had a PowerPoint to speak to – the latter designed by Andrew, a diligent worker who was an incredible pleasure to be a fellow team member with. It went down a treat and I was thankfully for all the amazing and positive feedback. It was great to get this experience as I quite enjoy public speaking but being able to present to a division in the government is a very original experience for anyone let alone a 15 year old girl from Ayrshire.

After my 15 minutes of fame I found out more on the Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Interns in the Scottish Government and thought this was a good opportunity for youth to get involved in areas like the government if they felt school wasn’t for them.

Day 5 – The end of this journey but the start of another

Friday was sadly my last day. I was truly disappointed that I had to leave such an amazing environment and team but was so thankful for the opportunity to actually get into the Government  and witness first-hand the hard work of the civil servants and how all the cogs work behind the scenes.

I feel that too much thanks and praise is placed on MSPs and ministers. In reality it is the civil servants that are the real cement in the government and keeping things together. Overall I have enjoyed my time at the Scottish Government so much and I am so glad I had the amazing chance to experience the ‘life of a civil servant’.

I am looking forward to the next part of my political journey whether it be in the Civil Service or challenging them. We shall see what doors and opportunities open for me as I start chapping away and having my voice heard.


To find out more please see the following links

There is another way

Centrestage Community show at Ardeer, Stevenston
..So many communities across Scotland need to find their magic and sparkle. They’ll only find it if we believe in them and empower them to aspire beyond what has been, and to dream about what could be. .

Fiona McKenzie (Chief Executive Officer, Centrestage Communities Ltd).

For over eight years now I’ve been reminding people that Centrestage isn’t about a place – it’s about the people – and that’s still true.

The bottom line is this. We believe that everyone – regardless of age, background or experience – can gain life changing social benefits through active participation in the arts, particularly music, drama and dance.

We seek to build a community of support and belief from our work in Ardeer in Stevenston – and then to pay that feeling forward to communities and individuals who haven’t been lucky enough to feel that sense of belonging and support.

In these difficult times, I’ve come to likening what we do to a cappuccino. Please, bear with me!

Right down there, at the bottom of the cup, there’s the grit and grounds. The reality of everyday existence and the challenges it brings to us all – financially, socially and morally.

However, above that we have the all-important life affirming shot of coffee! The power of the arts to transform communities and to stabilise, dignify and empower people to move forward independently.

And of course, this is all headed by the froth – the place, the people, the shows, the lights – and the laughs. Transformation. Possibility.

Every community – regardless of setting – has a history. Usually a great one. And every community has great people. So every community has potential.

The potential of communities
We are privileged to be able to work with communities and individuals who are experiencing real deprivation.

Every community – regardless of setting – has a history. Usually a great one. And every community has great people. So every community has potential.

A fairer Scotland needs to encourage us all that it’s time to talk potential – not poverty.

Let’s find solutions through community conversations – not individual interrogations.

In a real sense, we can’t expect the most vulnerable and disengaged people within our communities to move forward until there is dignity and hope in their lives.

But the chaos in which so many of them are living today crushes such aspiration. Relentless time, patience and kindness is required from all of us – privileged with the responsibility of supporting them – to help bring meaning and focus, and to bring them into the fold of a supportive community.

Easier said than done. And this is the point. People will find it nigh on impossible to turn a new chapter in their lives, if we can’t move beyond the mistakes of the past.

The ex-addict. The ex-offender. The un-educated. Stigma. Exclusion. Rejection.

If people are always to be defined by who they were, what they did – how can they ever find out who they could be?

If no-one will give them the time to teach them how to belong, why should they change?

It’s time to believe in people
It’s far easier to control than to care. And from our perspective it’s not just about the money. Money keeps the roof over our heads – but it doesn’t heal broken people and broken communities. Support is human – the ability to offer time and patience to people and places that require it.

There’s a story behind every person. There’s a reason why people are the way they are and a reason why they behave the way they do. A fairer Scotland needs to engage with its citizens, to understand the stories of her people and act for the Common Weal.

Trust me – little by little – we’re seeing big changes in Ardeer. I’m often reminded of a lovely quote by Roald Dahl:

Watch with sparkling eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

We believe in magic at Centrestage. We’re seeing it every day in Ardeer. A diamond is just a lump of coal that handled stress really well and Ardeer – despite its stresses – is becoming a real wee diamond.

So many communities across Scotland need to find their magic and sparkle. They’ll only find it if we believe in them and empower them to aspire beyond what has been, and to dream about what could be. A fairer Scotland needs to support their journey.

We believe in people.

There is another way.

More information

Website, Carers week
Carers Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

Website, Centrestage Communities
Centrestage Communities aims to help participants improve their own lives by providing the tools to make this possible. All projects are focused on building a strong sense of community both within our organisation and in the town itself.

In 2006, Fiona McKenzie left teaching to launch the social enterprise Centrestage Music Theatre CIC, building the theatre and teaching space without public or grant funding. This was followed by the launch of the charity Centrestage Communities Ltd in 2008.

Anyone, regardless of age, background or experience is welcome to attend Centrestage activities and the CS team currently delivers activities, projects and performances to over 1500 members of the community weekly within Centrestage and in the wider community across Ayrshire and beyond. Last year, over 100 performances were staged at their Kilmarnock base.

Fiona won the Association of Scottish Businesswomen award for Outstanding Contribution in October 2014 and the Woman of Inspiration Award for 2015.