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Power package to the workers' elbows

Further education colleges are leading the way in developing flexible workplace training, says David Eade. Companies which invest in basic skills training for their employees will see a dramatic increase in levels of performance and confidence at work.

Barnsley College has completed a "basic skills at work" project with 150 local authority employees including road workers, catering staff, caretakers, residential care staff, cleaners and supervisors. All the employees were given training to suit their individual needs at an open learning basic skills centre, and they all gained some form of national accreditation.

More than 70 per cent of the participants reported a positive change in their basic skills which could lead to an improvement in work performance. They also reported an increase in confidence when writing and talking to people at work, an improvement in the time taken to perform written tasks at work and a change in their attitude to education and training.

Like many colleges,Barnsley College has had to design its own materials for a market not previously catered for. In South Yorkshire the decline of the heavy coal and steel industries and the emergence of newer, lighter more technological industries has led to a greater emphasis on developing models of education and training that are suitable for a very different workforce.

Barnsley College has been at the forefront of many of these new developments, particularly in the fields of open and distance learning. By adopting more flexible, open approaches we can now offer employers and employees support which suits their workplaces.

As well as basic skills training, we provide and accredit core skills such as literacy and numeracy, and offer employees a portfolio package known as Power Packs.

Research by the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit (ALBSU) has shown that a lack of basic skills is often the reason why employees are resistant to change and are suspicious of new forms of education and training. Hard evidence shows that employees are unlikely to succeed unless they have basic English, maths and communications skills.

Basic skills deprivation in Barnsley is above national average levels identified by ALBSU. To combat this, the college launched research and initiated developments such as the skills training for local authority employees.

Like many other institutions, we have had to go to the workplace where training and learning can be focused towards particular industries with the role of the tutor changing to one of support rather than the traditional one of teacher.

Alliances have been formed with several employers in which accreditation is given for in-house training. The college identifies what individuals can do, accredits it, and gives them a programme to cover what they need for a full qualification. The Open College also carries out moderation and gives a certificate.

The employer takes part in this process - rather than just being a sponsor - leading to the creation of a sense of ownership and involvement which develops a greater understanding of the needs of the workforce and the way in which the college tutors' expertise can help students learn. This creates a sense of partnership in which all contributions are of value.

The scheme offers more than 300 units, from the most basic needs to first-year degree, including communications, information technology, maths, numeracy and modern languages. Other areas such as personal development and office skills will be added. The programme has been recognised by the Open College network and learners can sign on and off at any time, depending on their individual action plans. Accreditation covers areas of work which in the past have been assumed as understood by the students or have not been recognised in traditional courses. These include communications, form-filling, budgeting, number work, filling in tables, and monitoring and recording their own work.

Feedback from the employers is very encouraging. They say that the award of a nationally-recognised certificate provides opportunity and motivation for progression to higher awards.

Since 1990 Barnsley College has been involved in development planning and recording of achievement using new technology. Following a National Training Award from the Employment Department for curriculum development in 1992 Other colleges and training providers across the United Kingdom have used the package developed by Barnsley College for 40,000 "students" in the workplace.

As a result of growing enquiries from both local and large multinational employers, members of the college's development team are now in the process of putting the final touches to a new package, designed to focus on the needs of employees.

The Barnsley College Power Pack (Planning, Organising, Working, Experiencing, Recording Pack) package will provide employees with the power to produce their own personal development plans and record their achievements in the workplace and nationally.

Companies looking to support Investors in People (IIP) schemes are showing interest in the Power Pack. And the Ford Motor Company is sampling developments in the package as they emerge, piloting them through the company's employee development and assistance programmes at the Ford plant in Halewood.

The package, which helps ensure easy target-setting, decision-making and successful achievement recording, will be launched nationally in April at an employers' conference in Leeds on employee development and IIP schemes.

The Pack offers a simple way of allowing employees quickly to match their preferred learning style and interests with the modes of learning and contents on offer in the package. This also gives the employer a database of training programmes to build up.

The personal development content of the Power Pack has also been accredited within a core skills framework developed by Barnsley College. This means that use of the package will itself lead to an achievement, formally accredited by the Open College network.

David Eade is chief executive of Barnsley College. Further information about the Power Pack and open learning are available from him at Barnsley College, Belle Vue House, Cockerham Lane, Barnsley S75 lAT.

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