Breaking Down Barriers to Learning

Breaking Down Barriers to Learning

I had a fantastic visit to Rainbow Glass Studios, based in Prestwick recently to chat to the two Apprentices, and some of the other team about how they were finding the Glass Processing Modern Apprenticeship Qualification.

Set up in 2001 by Moira and Steven Malcolm, Rainbow Glass Studios specialise in creating and conserving stained glass windows.  With a team of 12 employees, their work takes them all over Scotland and beyond.  They have had some fantastic projects over the years including more recently Balloch House in Loch Lomond and Glasgow University Chapel.  

Watch the Reel

Why choose Apprentices?

When I asked Moira why they had decided to go down the Apprenticeship route, she said “In the passed we have used College and even Art School Graduates. However we have found by employing Apprentices they almost hit the ground running.  During their interview they were asked to do some practical work and it was clear to see that both of our new Apprentices had transferrable skills we could easily put to good use at Rainbow Glass.”

Sophie McNicol and Ted Henry both started their Apprenticeships last year.

Sophie, who is 24, had completed an HND in Graphic Design at College and then worked in several businesses before settling at Rainbow Glass.  She told me

“I really love my job and I can see this being my career forever.”

Ted joined Rainbow Glass full time after leaving school.  His Art teacher, Mr Boal from Kyle Academy in Ayr, had found the apprenticeship vacancy and enquired on Ted’s behalf.  Mr Boal said,

“His skill level at school was excellent, he just needed a little help to channel how to apply it.”

Mr Boal, Principal Art Teacher, Kyle Academy, Ayr.

Both Ted and Sophie are autistic, and Ted finds communication difficult.  Ted said,

“If it hadn’t been for Mr Boal I wouldn’t be here.  I had thought about going to College or University, but this is pretty much exactly what I was looking for.” 

Mr Boal went on to add,

“Ted was a real success story and I am sure will go on to great things. I have no doubt that he will go onto even greater success.”

Given the nature of Rainbow Glass’s industry Moira explained that they would always need to train staff on the job.

“We wanted to provide some structure and to formalise the training Sophie and Ted are receiving. Using the units from the Glass Processing SVQ, we have marked where they are applicable to our own production and conserving methods and can relate them back to the formal SVQ Qualification.”

Moira Malcom, Director, Rainbow Glass

Breaking down learning barriers

Hiring two apprentices that are autistic was entirely coincidental, and making some small adjustments in the workplace means both Sophie and Ted are comfortable and can work to the best of their ability.  Moira said that they both find listening and communication difficult, and have now appointed a “daily mentor” who will show them a task that they can then go on to complete.  Sophie and Ted both agreed that they learned best when they watched and then practiced, rather than several members of the team explaining what to do. They are also able to wear ear defenders when they feel necessary.

Sophie wasn’t diagnosed until a few years ago, in her early twenties.  She told me,

“At school, I was perceived as being misbehaved and didn’t understand why. After receiving my autism diagnosis it showed me I have just been very misunderstood. The hands on learning here at Rainbow Glass has been invaluable.“

Ted was diagnosed when he was around 10 or 11.  He explained that he felt he was well supported at school because he had an autism diagnosis.

However, both Sophie and Ted find the written aspects of their Apprenticeship very difficult.  Their Assessor, Greig Buchanan, has made some adjustments to the collection of evidence for their portfolio.  Greig said,

“We have been using lots of photographs and videos to collate evidence.  This is common anyway with a Glass Qualification however I have been utilising video more so with the guys at Rainbow Glass.  I also spend time with both of them explaining the questions and how they relate to their own work practices, and I hope they find it easier to understand.”

Greig Buchanan, Glass & Glazing Assessor, RT Resources

A happy workplace with two dogs

One of the things that struck me during my visit was how happy both Sophie, Ted, the two dogs, and the rest of the staff are at Rainbow Glass.  They showed me a stained glass window they have been working on for a few weeks, and Steven explained that normally an apprentice or trainee wouldn’t have been expected to work on such an intricate piece.  Sophie went on to tell me she felt like she was learning a trade, and the job had given her a real work ethic.  She was clearly very proud of her achievements and quite rightly so!

When I asked Ted what his favourite part of his job was, he said,

“It’s hard to choose!! Everything!”

Best of luck to you both with the rest of your Apprenticeship, I really think you have both found your calling!

Watch our video reel here.

If you want to find out more about Glass Processing qualifications, have a look here if you are a learner, or here if you are an employer.