Changing lives through work-based qualifications – James’ Story

In our latest features blog, James tells us the difference obtaining a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) made to his life.

14 April 2023 - sqablogs - Categories: Learner stories

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A former factory worker, James had always had a keen interest in social history but thought a career in museums was beyond his reach, “Before deciding to pursue my interest in the heritage sector, I was a factory worker for six years. I have always had a passion for social history but for various reasons I could not go to university after leaving school, so had to find employment wherever I could. I had convinced myself that it was silly to believe I could have a career in museums.

“Historically, museums have always had a high barrier to entry with a university degree being the minimum entry requirement. Alongside this, contracts tend to be temporary or part-time, both of which only really suit people that are financially comfortable with a safety net. Being from a poor, working-class background, I didn’t have either of those things.”

In 2020 James was offered the chance to undertake a Museums & Galleries Practice SVQ through Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) whilst working at the Scottish Maritime Museum as a Collection’s Assistant.

SVQs are assessed on the practical activity undertaken by a learner in the workplace using a portfolio of evidence that meets occupational standards. This makes them ideal for people in full-time employment wishing to undertake a qualification.

James continues, “When I was offered a place on the SVQ program through MGS, I jumped at the opportunity. I have gained an incredible amount of experience in all aspects of museum work. Learning on the job in a small independent museum has not only shown me the proper way of working in museums but also the unique difficulties faced by smaller organisations in the sector.

“Now that this SVQ is provided as part of a Modern Apprenticeship, I hope that more working-class people find their way into working in museums and lend their voice to the interpretation of our shared history.”

Thanks to his experience and knowledge gained through the SVQ, James was offered the position when the role of Curator at the museum came up.

James explains, “I do everything from writing grant proposals and managing the extensive maritime collection to responding to research requests and managing the twenty-strong cohort of museum volunteers.

“Becoming a Curator has always been the dream for me. Had I not undertaken the SVQ, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show that I could take on more responsibility within the museum. I would recommend SVQs to anyone, especially those from under-represented backgrounds, as it’s a great way to learn and demonstrate your skills and knowledge.”

To find out more about all the SVQs that SQA offer, visit