Colleges keen to be Investors in People

Nearly half of all UK further education colleges have gained the national award for excellence in staff development and training - originally created to raise standards in industry.

And the evidence emerging from the colleges which have sought recognition as Investors in People is that they are more likely to commit cash to continued staff training after gaining the award.

Investors In People UK, the body co-ordinating the award, says 192 out of 437 English colleges have gained the standard since its launch nearly six years ago.

Five out of 26 FE colleges in Wales have IIP status, while 14 of the 43 Scottish colleges have gained the standard.

The award has been fraught with problems ever since its launch. Many in industry initially rejected it as too bureaucratic, but it received a significant boost when the Government urged public sector organisations to get involved.

To gain IIP status, employers must show commitment to staff development, and that employee training is linked to business goals. They must provide induction training for all new staff, and review training needs.

More than 7,000 employers in different industries are credited with IIP while more than 21,000 are committed to gaining the standard - often with the help of colleges and other training providers. Kim Howells, minister for lifelong learning, recently told industry the Government would continue to back it as the model of excellence for boosting skills at all levels.

Colleges with IIP say it has forced them to practise what they preach. Employers already committed to IIP are more likely to pick a college with IIP when buying training programmes, said Mike Jutsum, vice-principal of Beverley College in Yorkshire, which gained IIP three years ago.

Ian Luxford, sector development manager for IIP UK, confirmed colleges were showing increasing interest: "I'm told it is being actively embraced within the FE sector, although the core benefits are the same for any company or organisation."

At Dudley College, which gained IIP three years ago, staff from a local training and enterprise council interviewed 117 college employees and sent questionnaires to others as part of its reappraisal.

Among improvements made at the college since it was awarded IIP is a new professional development centre which allows staff to update computer and other skills away from the gaze of students. Dudley spends more than Pounds 400, 000 per year (about 3 per cent of its overall budget) on staff training. Front-line staff, including receptionists and car park attendants, are encouraged to gain national vocational qualifications in customer service.

Sue Brownlow, head of development at the Further Education Development Agency, said colleges with IIP were taking a more strategic view of staff development.

"The historical divide between lecturers and other staff is slowly breaking down in terms of their overall contribution but some college systems, including appraisal, have not caught up yet."

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