Further education is not just for the workers at the Vyrnwy nursing home in mid-Wales. Owner Jan Williams and nursing manager Jayne Northcott-Hammond are among the latest Vyrnwy care staff to be awarded NVQs.
Mrs Williams and Mrs Northcott-Hammond have notched up an NVQ level 4 (the first rung of the higher education ladder) in management, supported by Bethany Training, with funding from Education and Learning Wales.
"Nursing home managerial staff have to have NVQ level 4 in management, and Jayne Northcott-Hammond, although a highly qualified nurse, is still required to have this qualification," said Mrs Williams.
She added: "I don't nurse, although for the past 10 years I have done all the non-nursing admin, so it made sense for me to do NVQ as well, and we decided to meet the requirement ahead of schedule."
Half of the Vyrnwy's care staff have be at NVQ level 2 by April of next year. Six have already made it besides Mrs Northcott-Hammond and Mrs Williams. Karen Evans secured an NVQ3 in care, while five others - Justine Davies, Linda Parkes, Rosemary Bird, Karen Meredith-Thompson and Pam Fox - achieved NVQ2 in care.
The eight put Vyrnwy ahead of the April 2005 deadline, although the nursing home lost out when two care staff found jobs elsewhere. But then five more members of staff signed up with funding for the training supported by Powys Training. Three more will train at level 2 and 3 later this year.
Mrs Williams, Mrs Northcott-Hammond and the six Vyrnwy staff were presented with their awards by Mick Bates, the Welsh Assembly member for Montgomeryshire, at a ceremony in the nursing home. Vyrnwy is in the village of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain, and has 54 full and part-time employees, which makes it the second largest employer in the village after an agricultural foodstuffs manufacturer.
Mrs Williams and her team care for 24 men and women, all over the age of 80. Their training was carried out in-house and, said Mrs Williams, has improved the quality of care because staff see that NVQ is a recognition of their nursing and communication skills.
"NVQ, I think, helps people to learn more about themselves, gives them a wider understanding of their role in care, what they already bring to the job and what more they could be doing. Staff, I hope, feel valued for their commitment to providing a high standard of care for the client and I would like to think that they also feel that I appreciate them."
Mrs Williams adds that she is enthusiastic about any study, NVQ or otherwise, that will motivate staff because Vyrnwy needs an edge. It does not advertise, and vacancies are filled by word of mouth. But it feels it cannot just sit and wait for "clients" - as residents are now called - to show up.
"Our catchment area is rural, thinly populated and we're not near a big hospital, so people have to travel to be here. But there are also plenty of other nursing homes not much further away in Shropshire and Powys, so to be successful we have to be very good at what we do."
Mrs Williams says she did not find the course easy initially, as she had not done intensive study since her days, 30 years ago, at an agriculture college.
However, she said that Vyrnwy is very fortunate in Joanne Davey of Bethany Training. "Joanne provided the inspiration, stimulation and encouragement to overcome difficult aspects of the training. She can encourage you, bring you back to where you want to be, help you to focus."
Mrs Williams's husband Doug runs a 120-acre cattle farm, Bryn Vyrnwy. "If a cow needs calving at three o'clock in the morning, that's where I am, but by 9am, I'm back at the nursing home looking after the clients".
Other members of the farming family lend a hand in the nursing home. Their oldest child, Angela, 21, worked as a care assistant at Vyrnwy until recently, when she had to concentrate on finals for her RE degree. Her sister Sally, 18, works in the home's kitchen while she studies holistic therapy. Once qualified, she will add that to the services Vyrnwy offers.
Not that their mother has finished with study. Mrs Williams may set her sights on NVQ5 in management next year.