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Education

4,000 attend SkillsCymru

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Learning how to lay bricks: Ella Haf Rees and Steffan Evans

YOUNG people from across Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire were given a taste of different career options at SkillsCymru, a regional careers fair featuring more than 100 employers, which took place during Apprenticeship Week at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli last Thursday and Friday (Mar 9-10).

Organised by Careers Wales and Coleg Sir Gâr, and supported by the Welsh Government and European Social Fund, the event was designed to inspire and educate visitors about the variety of different careers and vocational routes available to them.

More than 4,000 young people attended the free event over the two days.

Members of the public also attended the event to find out more about their career options, vocational routes and apprenticeship courses with some of Wales’ biggest companies such as Welsh Water, Principality and Bluestone Leisure Resorts.

Visitors were able to try their hand at virtual welding, creating short animations and driving a tractor using the Welsh Government’s state-of-the-art ‘have a go’ equipment, designed to increased participation in vocational pathways.

Attendees also tested their vocational skills by taking part in a range of interactive activities offered by employers who attended the event, from giving manicures and styling hair to laying bricks and making exotic mocktails.

Ffion Anderson, 15, from Maes y Gwendraeth School, said: “I really enjoyed visiting the science stands such as the NHS Wales and Cardiff University Medical School because I’d really like to become a surgeon or a cardiologist when I’m older.

“It was great seeing the ultrasound equipment on the NHS stand, the pictures you can get are so clear it’s amazing, it was so fascinating and made me realise I definitely want to go into the medical profession.

“I’m hoping to get into a Welsh university and study part of the course in the Welsh language, so it was useful to be able to talk to some people from the NHS about the sort of grades I’ll need and extra activities that might help my application to medical school.”

Steffan Evans, 14, from Ysgol Dyffryn Aman, said: “Coming along to Skills Cymru Carmarthenshire was a real eye opener for me as there were so many different things to see and do.

“I’d really like to become a geography teacher at a secondary school when I’m older, as I really love the subject and I’ve been really inspired by my own geography teacher, Mrs Campbell.

“Even though I’ve got a clear idea of what I want to do, it’s good to see how many different jobs there are available.”

Minister for Skills and Science Julie James attended the event, talking to employers and apprentices about the career options they were there to promote, and taking part in some of the ‘have a go’ activities.

She said: “It was inspiring to see so many young people from across Carmarthenshire thinking about their futures and talking to some of the biggest employers in the country.

“Those faced with choosing their next steps, whether it’s going to college, university or straight into the world of work, have big decisions to make and careers events like this help them to decide their future.

“Seeing some of Wales’ biggest employers attend the event demonstrates their commitment to investing in the future of Wales’s workforce, helping inspire the next generation to think about all pathways, including vocational routes into work.”

Richard Spear, chief executive of Careers Wales, added: “Organising events like these is key to helping young people learn more about the many different jobs and careers they could pursue.

“We often work with young people who are unsure about their next steps, not knowing what sector to go into. It’s our job to help them recognise what their skills are most suited towards and match their talents to a career.

“Careers events like SkillsCymru are a great opportunity to have an open and honest discussion with a huge variety of employers all in one place about what sort of qualifications and skills they look for, as well as asking apprentices about their course and experiences.”

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Education

Free school meals opportunity for WG

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No reason to make Wales' poorest children pay: Bevan Foundation Director calls for investment

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT​ has a unique opportunity to make sure that children from low-income families don’t go hungry, writes Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation.

Each year, around one in six of Wales’ school pupils claims a free school meal because their parents receive a benefit such as Employment and Support Allowance, Job Seekers’ Allowance or Income Support. At around £2.50 a go – £12.50 a week per child – this is quite a big help.

And the benefits of a nutritious midday meal are not just financial: a decent meal contributes to better concentration in the afternoon and ensures low income children have better diets too.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT CHANGES

The introduction of Universal Credit means that new rules about who can get a free school meal are needed. Universal Credit is set to be in place for new claimants in all parts of Wales by the end of 2018. The process of switching existing claimants to UC will take place gradually from 2019.

Universal Credit is paid to families where someone is working as well as families which are out-of-work. This means that the old rules for getting a free school meal can no longer be used.

In anticipation of this, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Free School Lunches and Milk (Universal Credit) (Wales) Order in 2013.

Put simply, this piece of secondary legislation enabled the children of all recipients of UC to receive a free school meal, irrespective of circumstances, while the benefit was being rolled out.

In practice, the numbers of children who benefited from the new rule were likely to be very small as the roll-out of UC doesn’t apply to claimants with children.

As Universal Credit is set to be rolled-out to all types of households, including those with children, the UK Government is cutting back on eligibility.

The plan is that children in families receiving UC which have an income from work of more than £7,400 will not be eligible for a free school meal.

The move has prompted a row in the House of Commons about the UK Government allegedly ‘taking away’ free meals from a million children, with equally furious counter claims.

It’s worth checking Channel 4’s Full Fact for the details, however.

CHANNEL 4 FULL FACT ANALYSIS

There’s some respectable maths behind Labour’s claim that a million children will lose out on free school meals after the government introduces a means test.

But they haven’t mentioned two key points:

  • No one who is currently eligible for free school meals under Universal Credit will lose their entitlement.
  • In fact, under Universal Credit, 50,000 more children will receive school meals by 2022 than would have done under the previous benefits system.

This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them: it’s about comparing two future, hypothetical scenarios. Both of them are more generous than the old benefits system.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN WALES?

Universal Credit, as everyone knows, is not devolved. But free school meals are. It is for the Welsh Government to decide who can receive a free meal.

Provision is already less generous in England, where all infant pupils get a free meal regardless of their families’ income. The question is whether the Welsh Government will follow the same route as the UK Government for children in families receiving Universal Credit.

WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Because the UK government has limited the eligibility for free meals in England there’s no Barnett consequential to help cover the cost of increasing eligibility in Wales.

But that is no reason to make Wales’ poorest children pay.

Aneurin Bevan famously said in 1949 ‘the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism‘. And on this he was right.

At the same time as Wales’ least well-off children have to pay £12.50 a week for a dinner, there’s free bus travel on the Traws Cymru service for anyone, a subsidised canteen for Assembly Members and government officials, and free swimming for over-60s.

If you had to choose who got the freebie, who would you select?

Any change to the rules will be via an order to be considered by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee.

If the Welsh Government is serious about the well-being of future generations, there is not better case for investing in the health and education of Wales’ children than this.

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Education

Gold for Ammanford skills pair

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Joshua Richards: Faced network security challenges

A 15-YEAR-OLD from Ammanford has won a gold medal in the final of a national skills competition.

Backed by the Welsh Government through the European Social Fund, Skills Competition Wales is a series of events held in colleges across the country, designed to celebrate vocational skills and create highly skilled, talented employees for the Welsh workforce.

Shane Ellis, 15, who is currently studying for an Entry Level BTEC at Coleg Sir Gar, competed against students from across Wales in a wood working challenge. The competitors were tasked with creating a wooden box using different woodworking joints.

Shane said: “I’d heard about the competition from a friend, and at first I thought I was too young to apply. When I found out that I could actually go for it, I entered myself into the competition straight away.”

“I felt confident during the competition, because I’d practised using the saw on different joints in my carpentry classes lots before, in preparation for the competition.

“I really enjoy wood work, so I’m hoping to do more carpentry as part of my course next year, and hopefully become a carpenter when I finish college.”

Shane will be joined by 17-year-old Joshua Richard, also from Ammanford, who won a gold medal in computing.

Joshua is currently studying for a Level 3 BTEC in Computing at Coleg Sir Gar, and he competed against students from across Wales in a series of network security challenges.

The competitors were tasked with a range of challenges, from using a Windows virtual machine and setting it up with firewall rules and group policies to using a Cisco Packet Tracer simulation tool to set up a secure wireless network.

Joshua said: “I really enjoyed taking part in the competition this year. I competed last year in the IT Technician Skills Competition, so it was great to be able to compete again, but in a different category this time.

“Once I finish this course I’m hoping to go to the University of South Wales and do a degree in cyber security and forensics. I particularly enjoy learning about the crime side of IT security.

“I’ve loved computers since I was young. I enjoyed IT lessons at school but always felt that I wanted to do more, so working on computers became more of a hobby outside of school. My dad is always fixing computers too, so maybe my interest in computers had something to do with growing up watching him at work.”

More than 50 competitions are taking place this year, across a wide range of different vocations from bricklaying and hairdressing to aeronautical engineering and culinary art.

The successful youngsters may then go on to be shortlisted for the UK Squad, competing against the world’s most talented young people at the EuroSkills competition in Austria, in 2020, or the WorldSkills international final in Shanghai in 2021.

Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan said: “Competitions like these are essential for establishing transferable skills for the future, and allow young people at the start of their careers to flourish.

“They provide individuals from Wales with the opportunity to demonstrate their skills as well as the chance to go further and compete on a national or even international level.

“I would like to congratulate Shane and Joshua on their brilliant achievements and wish them the best of luck in the next stage of the competition and I look forward to seeing them prosper in their future careers.”

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Education

Sky high opportunities with RAF

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Reaching for the sky: Students find out about RAF careers

PUBLIC services students at Coleg Sir Gâr have seen how their careers can take off with the help of the Royal Air Force.

A corporal and a warrant officer, who have served as far as Afghanistan, Copenhagen, Germany and Norway, visited the college, highlighting the global opportunities of the RAF.

Careers span from air traffic and fighter controllers, logistics, police, medicine and dentistry to survival equipment specialist.

Amanda Morgan, public services course leader at Coleg Sir Gâr said: “Visits such as these are vital for students to see for themselves what the opportunities are working for British forces and the team gave an excellent insight into RAF life and what opportunities and qualifications can be gained.

“They also offered an insight into its range of fighter aircraft used to protect the UK’s airspace, their combat air capability and how some models can gather airborne intelligence, it was an interesting and inspiring insight.”

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