Moving up the ladder in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service used to be an in-house affair. Now, an award-winning supervisory management programme developed at Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy has become essential to promotion within the service.
The programme delivers a wide range of management skills to crew and watch managers, and to those aspiring to such posts. The driver for the new approach to learning in the fire and rescue service was the Government's modernisation agenda, says Alison Clark, the project manager at the college. The Scottish Executive recognised that the workforce was a key resource and its contribution was essential to the delivery of that agenda.
Two new SQA-validated qualifications - a Professional Develop-ment Award in crew management and a Higher National Certificate in watch management - were developed in conjunction with the Scottish Fire Services College in Gullane, East Lothian. These are being delivered to the eight fire services in Scotland through a consortium of eight FE colleges, led by Adam Smith.
Since the programme began two years ago, 80 firefighters have completed their HNCs and PDAs, with another 110 due to complete this June. A similar number are enrolled for 2007-08. The innovative blended learning approach has proved highly successful and was rewarded in December with a Scottish Further Education Unit award for external customer services. The award went to the Institute of Business and Management at Adam Smith, which devised the course.
"The biggest benefit of the programme is that it delivers management skills which are far wider than just being fire service specific," says Lynne Gow, a crew manager at Sight-hill fire station in Edinburgh who has completed her PDA and is on route to gain her HNC in June.
"I'm better at managing people and resources, and my coaching skills have improved as a direct result of the programme. It im-proves your competence and confidence and it gives you a sense of ownership, because you know you can develop what and where you need to."
To match the expectations of the Government's modernisation plan, the service created an "integrated personal development system" to provide a structured development path for every fire officer. This is based on their needs to perform at their current level and to progress to the next stage.
The blended learning approach includes face-to-face sessions in college; lead and assistant tutors for each cohort ensuring continuous learning support; distance learning by email and telephone to support self-study; course textbooks and contextualised modular materials; as well as keynote speakers at induction and residential events. Jim Leishman, the indomitable manager of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club, recently gave a masterclass on his leadership and motivation methods.
"The face-to-face college sessions are about sharing experience and best practice," says Alison Clark. "The students are not lectured at - they are engaged with. It's very student-centred."
Lynne Gow's experience is that, through these sessions, the course encourages students to network professionally: "This is a major aspect.
It's the personal contact which makes the experience vital. If it was a distance learning course it wouldn't have the same impact. The course is integrated, interactive and gives you a lot of ideas."
It is also tailored to work patterns, encouraging studies to be pursued at fire stations as well as facilitating time out for college attendance or time off in lieu.
"This is crucial when you remember that, in any given week, you might be doing two 10-hour day shifts and two 14-hour night shifts," says Miss Gow.
"It's demanding on time but as you are nominated by the fire service, you get full support. You need to access information at work on the intranet as well as study at home and at college. The 36-week course is a fantastic way to show your potential."
As well as impacting directly on her ability to manage a crew of up to 14 members, Miss Gow says it helps her communicate with and assess the trainees she is also responsible for, as well as aiding her in her fire prevention work which involves talking to individuals and communities about safety measures they can take. And all of this feeds into her HNC project in which she is drawing up a system for training and development.
Project work like this, says Ms Clark, will feed directly into the fire and rescue service, ensuring the programme is of benefit as a whole, as well as to the individuals.
Miss Gow agrees: "This programme is essential for anyone who wants to be promoted above firefighter. It's fully facilitated by the service and it's refreshing because it's led by an educational establishment and not by the SFRS itself."