Rosemary Varley's experience in personnel has given her a detached perspective of the demands and opportunities brought about by the independence colleges gained in 1993.
For administrative staff the effect was immediate: Blackpool and The Fylde College, where she works, became an employer with responsibilities to its staff and to central government. It needed its own payroll and legal staff. For the first time, the finance department had to administer all the budget.
Student data demanded by the Further Education Funding Council was more complex and detailed than that asked for by the local authority, with whom they had dealt previously. "Enhanced staffing was needed at once," she says.
By breaking down national pay rates and conditions of service, incorporation had whipped away the protection afforded by the previous agreements.
"But they (the agreements) had also created an opportunity for treating staff more equally,"she says. In line with recommendations from the professional associations, the college placed support staff and academic managers on the same pay spine.
Negotiations with the unions led to all staff working under the same peronnel procedures rather than the different terms in the previous "silver" and "purple" books. The college also pays the rates recommended after the annual negotiations between the Association of Colleges and the unions.
Support staff have also upgraded their skills to meet the needs of educational change. The college audits its needs each year and feeds this information into its training and strategic plan. Development priorities are set. For example, they could be resource-based learning and information technology skills. This links into each member of staff's annual performance and staff development review and can lead to training, such as the D34 courses to allow instructors to assess parts of national vocational qualification courses. Training is paid for and supported by the college.
Demarcation lines are blurring. Now that part of instructors' work is defined as "assisting to learn", they are paid at the bottom of the lecturers' scale. More staff are now "managers" in one way or another. "Many support staff have been members of Unison and some are now members of both Unison and the Association for College Management," says Rosemary Varley.