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4th June 2010 at 01:00
A new course in renewable energies creates a pathway from school to college to university

It is the first qualification of its kind to be launched in Scotland and will educate students to help save the planet.

A Higher National Certificate (HNC) in "Renewables and the Environment" is being introduced at Aberdeen College and Banff and Buchan College in Fraserburgh. For the first time, young people will have the opportunity to study renewable energy at school and progress to further study at college, then on to apprenticeship schemes or university.

Skills for Work Energy Intermediate 2, with a strong focus on wind and solar power, is being promoted to S5-6 pupils across the region. Links are planned with universities to enable further education students to move on to engineering degree courses and postgraduate study. And a National Certificate and Higher National Diploma are in the pipeline.

Aberdeen College is leading a renewable energies steering group, developing learning opportunities across the region to meet the future employment needs of Europe's energy capital and industry hub. Group members include Banff and Buchan and Forth Valley colleges, and The Robert Gordon University.

"We plan to make sure we have proper progression for learners," says Sandra Walker, director of curriculum and learning at Aberdeen College. "I have written to all heads and sent a leaflet and information for guidance teachers. What we are saying to people in school is: `Here is your route into an industry of the future.'"

Principal Rob Wallen says: "The future of renewable energies will depend on a well-trained workforce. Young people and their parents should recognise that this is the new growth area where employment will be at a premium. It is an excellent opportunity and being there at the beginning will give them a huge advantage."

The new HNC starts in August and covers a range of renewable energies, including visits to developments already under way in wind, wave and solar power. Colin Tweedie is team manager in electrical engineering, process and automotive and part of the team developing the new course.

"The main thing we have looked at is the environment plus the technologies within wave and wind. But in Scotland we have a renewable energy we keep forgetting about, and that's hydro. So we have decided to do a unit all to do with water, where we will group hydro, wave and tidal together. We will also look at solar and biomass," he says.

The new qualification was warmly welcomed by Meldrum Academy, one of three Aberdeenshire schools where Skills for Work Energy Intermediate 2 is delivered to an all- female group of students by Banff and Buchan College.

"With the wealth of opportunity in Aberdeen and surrounding area and the high-profile renewables within the oil and gas sector, this course should be an attractive qualification in its own right, or as a stepping stone to degree courses through collegeuniversity links," says Liz Prosser, depute head at Meldrum.

Mrs Prosser believes the Renewables and the Environment HNC could be attractive to students who have undertaken the Skills for Work Energy course and pupils who study energy of all kinds in the science and technology curriculum. She says children at Meldrum who study an inter- disciplinary capacity- building course in energy in S12 might also be attracted by FE opportunities in renewables.

The new development has also won approval from Aberdeen College students, who took time out from last-minute exam revision to share their thoughts.

John Murray, 19, and Sam Hutchings, 19, are studying to be process technicians for the oil and gas industry as part of OPITO, the oil and petroleum industry's training scheme.

They are doing an HNC in measurement and control, and will take up industry placements at the end of their course. "Oil's not going to last forever so this has got to be looked into," says John, a former pupil at Bridge of Don Academy in Aberdeen. "It's better to get people learning about this now, so there are more who can look into it and get it further advanced."

Sam, whose father works as an offshore engineer, comes from Swansea. "This is a really good idea. It's a technology we have overlooked and haven't done enough research into."

Aberdeen College also plans to offer an evening course on renewable energy: "We will probably offer it in the evening to people in work who are engineers who want to upskill and get some information about the energy industry," says Ms Walker.

Jim Mather, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, praised Aberdeen College's efforts to develop these new educational opportunities for young people.

During a visit to an "All Energy" event to showcase the international renewables sector, he said: "The search for sustainable energy is the power industries' highest priority. Over the next 40 years, it will be an area of substantial growth bringing with it many job opportunities."

Teachers here are thrilled about trail-blazing further education in an emerging sector. "There's more oomph in the staff," says team manager Mr Tweedie. "They are excited for the future."

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