How the outdoors boosts Skills for Life


As a new Skills for Life programme is launched by the Outward Bound Trust we find out about the benefits for young people.

A highlighted gap in the school curriculum in Scotland to equip young people with the skills to engage in rewarding employment has been the impetus for a new course led by the Outward Bound Trust.

While the 21st century competition for employment for young people is increasingly tough, businesses believe there is a need for better support and skills for school leavers.

A survey by the CBI (Confederation of Business Industry) found that many employers are not satisfied with the skills of school-leavers in areas such as attitudes to work (33%), teamwork (36%), basic numeracy (38%), problem-solving skills (50%) and communication skills (52%).

A previous study by the Federation of Small Businesses also revealed that more than three-quarters of firms found the general business awareness of young people to be poor.

Subsequently, an independent Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce recommended that a focus on preparation for employment should be central to changes in the school curriculum.

In response, the Outward Bound Trust came up with a Skills For Life Award programme that launches this summer at Loch Eil Outdoor Centre, near Fort William, and has the ambition of using the outdoors environment and challenging activities to enhance the skills and abilities of people aged 15 to 19.

What is the Skills For Life Award?

The 19-day personal development course is designed to develop confidence, communication skills and team work for young people with an emphasis on transitioning from school to work, university, college or an apprenticeship.

The course focuses on a number of outcomes including:

  • Resilience: The ability to bounce back from setbacks and sustain effort in working towards and achieving goals.
  • Problem solving: Analysing facts and finding creative solutions.
  • Self-confidence and self-belief: Believing that goals are personally achievable.
  • Self-management: Accepting responsibility, flexibility, time management and improving own performance.
  • Communication: Listening, questioning and articulating.
  • Team work: Respect, cooperation, negotiation and persuasion.
  • Grasping opportunities: The importance of a positive attitude, openness to new ideas and the desire to achieve.

Tony Shepherd is head of the Loch Eil Centre and led the development team for the course. He says: “The course has a three-stage structure that helps the participants to achieve the outcomes.

The Outward Bound Trust 1st Skills for Life Course image 1

Credit: Rod Ireland Photography –

“Initially there’s a ‘finding your feet’ stage, where they become an effective group taking part in tasks such as climbing, canoeing, problem-solving and also a five-day walking and canoeing expedition.

“Next is a ‘developing your toolbox’ stage, where the young people refine their group skills and embark on a ‘solo’ reflection day. They undertake some enhanced outdoor adventure such as multi-pitch climbing.

“The final stage is ‘setting up for success’, where they put into practice their outdoor and group skills to undertake a five-day, largely unaccompanied expedition.”

Throughout the Award, which makes the most of the varied landscape in the Scottish Highlands, there are learning models that introduce concepts such as positive mindset theory, comfort zones and the habits of effective people.

Outward Bound Trust senior instructor Libby Oxtoby reveals what the youngsters do on the course. She said: “Over the 19 days the young people take part in two four-night expeditions. The first with instructors that consists of a canoeing section and then walking.

“The second one was an unaccompanied expedition, where the students were able to take on the challenge of the outdoors trip on their own and remotely supervised.

“During the rest of the time there is sailing, single pitch and multi-pitch climbing, canoeing, hill walking and abseiling to take part in.”

The Outward Bound Trust 1st Skills for Life Course image 2

Credit: Rod Ireland Photography –

Other challenges include problem-solving tasks and a day on a reflective solo experience.

Libby added: “All of this was supported by producing video personal statements, actions plans for the course and future months and developing an understanding of how they can transfer all that they learnt back to life at home, school or work.”

Following a pilot course last year, Libby said she was  impressed by how the youngsters gained confidence and realised skills they did not believe they had.

She added: “I saw how students developed the ability to face tasks with a positive mindset and one remarkable outcome was that those who didn’t think they could be leaders managed very well with the leadership tasks. They surprised themselves.

“The benefit that stood out the most for me was they could all see, after the 19-day course, how much they are capable of, how to interact with a variety of people and how these and other experiences can transfer into employable skills.

“It was uplifting to watch them change their attitudes to situations, how they articulate themselves and how they deal with a problem set in front of them.”

Brothers rise to the Life Skills challenge

The-Outward-Bound-Trust-1st-Skills-for-Life-Course-image-4Teenage bothers Paul, 16, and 15-year-old Brendan, of Airdrie, enjoyed the chance to take on new challenges in the outdoors and to learn new skills as part of the pilot Awards course.

Paul says: “The course was difficult, but it was also a lot of fun and a great adventure. I enjoyed meeting new people and learning from new experiences.”

Paul found the toughest challenge to be the final expedition. He says: “It was not easy and it pushed me a lot but I have benefitted so much from this course.

“My confidence increased and I improved my fitness as a result of the course. It gave me the incentive to keep training afterwards and I have now been accepted at college to study sports and fitness.

“I’d recommend Skills for Life to everyone my age because it is fun, a great learning experience and also looks good on your CV.”

Brendan also feels he benefitted from the course and feels a lot more confident around other people now.

He says: : “It was a very challenging few weeks for me but a good experience. I’d recommend this course to other people because the challenges were well worth the feeling of achievement. I loved it.”

The next Skills for Life Scotland courses take place at Loch Eil centre:

  • June 29 to July 17
  • July 20 to August 7
  • August 10 to 28

Tony said: “We encourage young people to sign up to the course if they want to develop the skills that will enhance the next stage of their life.

“Whether they are moving on to fifth and sixth year exams, college, uni or work it gives people a chance to gain experiences to aid this transfer through doing some pretty cool adventures in wild.”

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