Leveraging the career-boosting power of training

They say it’s never too late to change the direction of our lives, and that received wisdom would seem to apply as much to our working lives as to our everyday existence.

For some, career satisfaction might lie in having mastered most aspects of their role with few unforeseen events developing to potentially exceed their capabilities.

And then there are others such as Iain MacCorquodale, Facilities Maintenance Manager with SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science) who choose to tackle, head on, new challenges mid-way through a successful 25-year career in the trades. Actively pushing themselves out of their comfort zone in a quest to acquire new skills and industry accreditation.

Image courtesy of SAMS

SAMS is Scotland’s premier independent marine science organisation engaged, since 1884, in generating new knowledge of benefit to the marine environment and society at large. The organisation is also a founding partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands. SAMS’ specialist operations comprise marine research vessels, a research aquarium, analytic and sampling facilities, an artificial reef, seaweed nursery and research farms, and a library and conference facilities. It also hosts the Scottish Marine Robotics Facility and the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa, the UK’s algal library.

Based at SAMS’ campus at Oban in Argyll, Iain leads a small tightly-knit facilities management team tasked with a wide-ranging remit which encompasses planned and remedial maintenance; new and small works; mechanical, electrical and fire safety; grounds maintenance, on site cleaning services and the management of external contractors.

Taking the educational plunge

Iain is an experienced electrician who has worked extensively across Scotland including the Hebrides and Western Isles, carrying out major electrical projects involving public sector, healthcare, educational and water treatment installations. In 2013 a new career opportunity arose, partly outwith his sphere of electrical expertise, requiring additional training.

A firm believer in seizing new opportunities, Iain astutely observes: “Before joining SAMS, I’d been gearing up, then spent, the summer rewiring a secondary school in the Hebrides. This had been my pattern over several previous summers, since major projects of this nature are scheduled for the annual school holidays to minimise disruption. With that final school project successfully completed, I joined the SAMS team.”

Image courtesy of SAMS

The demands of the new position served as the catalyst in 2015 for Iain to enrol in a Building Services Modern Apprenticeship at Glasgow’s Springburn College, now Glasgow Kelvin College. Further training completed in 2017 included additional certifications in hot and cold water systems, heating systems, renewables, control systems, refrigeration and legionella control.

Iain continues: “Most of my fellow students on that initial course were considerably younger, and they and the tutors formed a really supportive, enthusiastic group. The programme was tough due to the need to travel to Glasgow one day each week, coupled with managing coursework at home while still fulfilling my demanding team leader role. Yet the experience gave me the taste to keep developing, so next came the SMSTS (Site management safety training) after which I started setting my sights on securing a CSCS Black Card. And that led me in 2018 to Esteem Training, through our mutual connection with the Argyll Construction Training Group”.

Team training

2018 saw Iain and two of his team complete the SVQ3 OWS (occupational work supervision) programme, led by assessor David Currie. Those being pre-pandemic, non socially-distanced times, the course was held at a hotel in Inveraray with the convenient local venue attracting several more Argyll-based companies.

Iain is particularly keen that his team benefits from funded vocational training since some are university graduate engineers while others are skilled, resourceful professionals with few formally-recognised qualifications. Working with Esteem Training has, he feels, helped place the team on a more equal footing.

Assessor David Currie picks up the story: “Iain’s team is multi-skilled, incredibly resourceful, and so focused on achieving their end goal. They carry out sizeable on site works in areas that take in fire safety, refrigeration, mechanical and electrical, recently completing a large-scale refurbishment project.

“As assessors, we’re acutely aware that it’s often been some time since candidates have found themselves in a formal learning environment. So we concentrate on providing maximum flexibility and positive support, recognising that they have pressurised jobs of work to contend with, over and above course content.”

Having completed multiple training courses as part of his educational journey, Iain suggests that some courses ‘can suffer from padding out or even simply fill in time’ or can sometimes be delivered at too rapid a pace for attendees to fully absorb learning materials. Thankfully not so for either the OWS or CSM (Construction site management) SVQ courses which Iain has completed with Esteem Training, each time led by assessor David Currie, with the latter qualification having been secured in February 2020.

Time is of the essence

Iain has found several more positives working with David and our extended team. Everything from practical time management advice to the assessor’s personal time management – finishing training sessions on time, frequently to the precise minute advertised.

Image courtesy of SAMS

“Time and resources are precious commodities for a small team like ours, thus we need training courses to deliver practical knowledge and useful tools that we can apply immediately to our daily working lives. I make no bones that I’m a stickler for quality and precision since my team drives facilities management (FM) operations for a hybrid commercial/research/educational campus that must be tightly controlled to maintain compliance, and meet our ISO 45001 health and safety and ISO 14001 environmental requirements. Like many FM teams, we work within tight budgets, so it was helpful that the team’s OWS awards and my CSM course were fully funded.

“I’m just as choosy in matters relating to my team’s training and development. There has to be quality content, delivered by knowledgeable people with a practical track record who’ve experienced the kind of situations and operating pressures that we face on a daily basis. Esteem’s assessors clearly have that background.

“They’re very organised and good at showing you different ways to tackle situations, offering new tools and ways of doing things that you might not have come across, plus we all enjoyed the chance to network with peers, swapping similar work experiences.

“I like that Esteem Training has a much more personal touch, seeming to have their clients’ best interests at heart, looking to support you over the long term. For example, I had been all set to travel to Cumbernauld for the CSM workshop when Andy Findlater, Business Development Manager called and advised me to hold fire as plans were shaping up to deliver the CSM course a few weeks later in Inveraray. For me that’s going above and beyond, acting more as a partner rather than simply signing you up for training.

“I agree that it can be daunting to re-enter education after a long period out of the classroom. But we hear so much about Scotland’s economy suffering from a chronic skills shortage, and the need to keep investing in our staff to provide them with increased job satisfaction and security at the same time helping to keep us ahead of the unrelenting pace of change.

“A supportive employer is central to progressing, and SAMS have been very supportive of all suggestions. That said, I feel the onus is on staff themselves to research what’s out there – and be ambitious about what they can do and the path they want to follow. In previous employment, I simply wasn’t putting myself forward for opportunities.

“For someone who only ever had electrical certificates and first aid in the 25 years when I was purely electrical based – when opportunity knocks, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. It’s worth it in the long run, so just go for it. I’m walking proof of what can be achieved – never let anyone tell you that you’re too old.”