Forth Valley College

In this case study we hear from Laura Fraser of Forth Valley College. Laura has just graduated from our Business Management programme with a First Class Honours degree. We also hear from James Aston, who was Laura’s workplace mentor during her degree.

Laura's Story

What were the benefits of Graduate Apprenticeship programme that attracted you the most?

The main benefits were that it enabled me to gain knowledge and understanding of Business Management that would underpin my role within FVC as well as provide me with a fantastic qualification and reduce any managerial skills gaps.

Being able to learn and study while working was another excellent benefit as I could relate my learning directly to my workplace. The networking opportunities with the other GAs from public and private sector was also really appealing as we could share current industry practices and then cascade my learning to other colleagues in FVC.

The attraction of being able to develop the management tools and knowledge needed to have a deeper understanding of business practices would ultimately improve my skills, increase the quality of my work and help progress my career.

Please describe what you are employed to do (and current job title):

My current role within Forth Valley College is the Business Transformation, delivering major transformational change projects in FVC. I have the responsibility to manage the Programme Management Office working with multiple interdependent projects cross college with internal and external stakeholders.  I have worked in FVC since January 2012.

 Some key responsibilities are:

  • Manage and implement complex transformational projects and facilitate continuous improvement using project management methodologies and tools
  • Responsible for building, maintaining and developing relationships with internal and external stakeholders
  • Manage and implement project plans, monitor progress against them and identify risks
  • Provide key recommendations to senior management
  • Lead project teams through all elements of transformation such as diagnosis of potential opportunity; design of new ways of working; planning and project management; implementing change at operational and strategic level.
  • To drive forward major business transformation improvement projects in line with our strategic and operational priorities
  • How have you coped with the challenges of learning new skills whilst studying towards a degree?

Throughout the four years I have found managing work and studying completely fine. During this time I have planned ahead and managed my time effectively to meet deadlines. In some instances using my project planning skills to manage workload and university workload using Gantt charts! The support from my workplace mentor has been crucial as he ensured I had dedicated time to concentrate on qualification and has been extremely supportive.

I actually feel combining both work and studying far more beneficial as I could see the theory I was learning at university in practical situations at work which in turn gave my valuable examples when writing assignments.

What is your proudest achievement to date in your role and can you explain how this impacted on your working environment and or helped deliver results on behalf of your organisation?


Some achievements I have had in my job role are:

  • Being part of the first cohort of 12 individuals who attended a two year Leadership and Management Programme and gaining a level 9 (degree level) Management qualification. This programme also allowed to me attend the GA programme at Heriot Watt.
  • Securing a management position in my department and managing a team of staff.
  • Managing large scale programme of works with multiple projects bringing in positive transformational change in the organisation. Ensuring efficiencies and streamlining of processes.
  • Project managing a major business continuity project for the college during Covid-19 pandemic to ensure staff and students were able to still work and learn and return to campus safely.

University Achievements:

  • Achieving the Heriot Watt Deputy Principal awards in third and fourth year for having six or more A grades in one academic year.
  • Graduating this year with a first class honours degree
  • Being awarded the EBS prize for GA Business Management Programme having the highest GPA in final year of study (Hons Year)
  • Completing my Capstone project/ dissertation and carrying out a longitudinal study in my organisation analysing strategic change and stakeholder engagement
  • Being the GA liaison for my cohort and working with the faculty and being a support to the other students. This was from 2nd year to 4th year while studying.

What are your future career hopes and goals on completion of the Graduate Apprenticeship?

I hope to grow as a manager in Forth Valley College. I would like to continue to develop my knowledge, skills and experiences further by continuously improving and evolving in my role and future roles. This qualification has given me the confidence to manage more complex projects and have a greater awareness of business which has had a positive impact on my reflective and critical thinking and working practices.

The graduate apprenticeship has also highlighted that my areas of interest are change management, project management and business consultancy. This is where I think my future career aspirations will develop. I will forever be a lifelong learner and I think this will ensure I stay abreast of industry changes.

Can you outline what support and/or encouragement your employer has given you in your GA journey?

I am truly grateful for the support, encouragement and opportunities I have been given by my employer during my GA journey. I have had dedicated time to study, work shadowing opportunities, been given access to the right people to interview and learn from. My work mentor, James Aston, has been so supportive and has encouraged me throughout the four years and introduced me to key stakeholders to carry out research for assignments.

Please give a quote to sum up your overall experience of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme:

I am forever appreciative for the opportunities I have received through my workplace and the university to support my growth, development and help me to further my career in the future. A special thank you to Dr David Steinberg and James Aston for inspiring me and supporting me throughout the whole four years.

I would like to say that this GA qualification has changed my life and given me the opportunity to transform my career pathway. It should never be underestimated the power of learning and how much it can impact someone and the GA Programme and faculty has created this impact on me.

I would highly recommend this programme to anyone thinking of doing some professional development. It has given me a greater insight to my organisation, I have become more confident, reflective and critical in my working practices. It has further confirmed that I thrive being part of project management, change management and business consultancy.

James Aston, workplace mentor for Laura

Can you provide some background to the company (size, what it does etc):

Forth Valley College is a leading provider of further and higher education offering a wide range of courses and training opportunities.

Our dynamic provision ranges from access to degree level and includes full-time and part-time courses, evening classes, flexible and online learning, vocational qualifications and business training courses.

We welcome approx 14,500 students per academic session with 94% of learners progressing to further studies or employment upon completion of their course. We were Scotland’s first regional college with state-of-the-art campuses across the central belt in Alloa, Falkirk and Stirling.

We have approximately 600 staff split between teaching and corporate services spread over 3 campuses, Alloa, Falkirk and Stirling.

What are the key reasons why the Graduate Apprenticeship model suits your specific business/industry?

The model was perfect for our organisation:

Allowing the candidate to do this part time meant impact on the business was kept to a minimum

It allowed Laura to apply her learning to her job as well as offering real situations to be used in her studies

What appealed to you most about Heriot-Watt University as the GA provider?

We already had a strong working relationship between Forth Valley College and Heriot Watt and so that supportive nature from the outset was appealing.

In what way has the candidate made a contribution to the workplace / business?

At work, Laura continues to apply what she has learned in her GA to her role, Laura has successfully completed a number of high profile, cross-college, projects such as implementing an EPOS, Staff Workroom Upgrade, move to our new £78million Falkirk Campus and ensuring that the College met GDPR compliance. These have not only given her experience of implementing key college developments, but also dealing with all levels of college management, staff and key stakeholders, internally and externally.

She has a natural gift in managing projects, as well as being able to manage difficult situations.
She has good people skills and is able to deal with staff at all levels, this complimented by excellent communication skills. All these qualities have been further enhanced from her learning on the GA programme

An example of this is her lead role in the delivery of our £4m Transition Skills Project, which is part of the Falkirk Growth Deal.

How do you feel about Laura’s future? 

As Laura’s direct manager, I have worked closely with her over the past four years on a number of key college projects. Laura has shown true leadership potential and has excellent communication and organisation skills and consistently exceeded objectives set by me. On a personal level, she is charismatic and well spoken, both qualities that have served her well in her role as Business Transformation Manager, which is a role she gained whilst doing her Graduate Degree.

I am confident that she will perform well and has benefited strongly from the programme. Laura is driven, self-confident, proactively helpful, and smart, and I know she will continue to find success in the college.

Based on your experience of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme would you happily employ another Graduate Apprentice in the future?

We would happily employ a graduate apprentice. A candidate that has successfully completed the programme would have had to have shown dedication, ability and a strong work ethic, qualities that employers seek in any employee.