If anyone had said to me at 17 that I would be working for Bridgend College in 10 years time I wouldn’t have believed them. Attending the College as a student was never really an option suggested to me at school - the traditional path, the A-Level path, was the only option, right? Bridgend College was seen to me as a non-starter, and by my own naive admission, I wouldn’t have ever considered accepting a place to study for a Level 3 qualification there.
Fast-forward 8 years and mid-way through my PhD at Cardiff, someone I knew at school, through a friend of a friend, contacted me on Facebook to ask if I knew anything about Raspberry Pis. I said that I knew a little, and she suggested that I meet with an IT Lecturer at the College to discuss how to embed Python into the curriculum. That lecturer happened to have access to some CPD funding, and so our initial half-an-hour meeting turned into 3-hours-a-week CPD on Raspberry Pis and related systems. Fast-forward one more year and I’ve taken up three hours of formal teaching at the College, teaching units in Web Development and Automated Systems.
At this point, a career at Bridgend College was still quite far from my mind; it was a welcome distraction from my PhD and one of my many side-projects at the time but still not something I was seriously considering doing.
Something changed significantly during the next few months. From working to deliver the fun and hugely successful SMILE project to developing the range of workshops for Full STEAM Ahead, there was something infectious about this College. There was passion here, a true motivation to do well by the students and commit to staff development, a drive to develop the curriculum for the students and the community. A few joint projects and a job application later, I was in - employed full time as Digital Lead and tasked with developing bespoke curriculum content for embedding digital technology in the classroom.
Having now been a full-time member of staff for just over a year, I couldn’t recommend this College more highly. Their commitment to student and staff development and that drive to push boundaries in innovation that I glimpsed from the sidelines during the conclusion of my time at Cardiff is still just as apparent and I have been able to pursue opportunities through this role that simply wouldn’t have been possible to achieve elsewhere. Where else are you able to work with motor vehicle students in the morning, visit some alpacas before lunch and then deliver Python workshops in the afternoon? Colleges are awesome. If you have an FE College near you, go and check it out - you might be surprised what you find!
Further to my own development, my appreciation of the range of educational pathways has been enhanced immeasurably through this role. I no longer believe that the traditional A-Level route is either the only or the best route of study for all learners. Vocational training and work-based-learning are critical to the development of a skilled workforce that will respond effectively to industrial change and I strongly believe the Government and communities must endeavour to secure the future of FE Colleges and similar training providers. With the STEAM Academy just around the corner, this is an incredibly exciting time to be a part of the Bridgend College mission and a great time to get involved with what we are trying to achieve in our small corner of Wales.