Learning takes off in Manchester

10th July 1998 at 01:00
HIDDEN away from the hustle and bustle of one of Britain's busiest airports, employees are learning how to paint with watercolours.

The class, taught by a lecturer from a nearby further education college, is just one example of the range of learning opportunities being offered at a study centre at Manchester's Ringway Airport.

The centre is housed in Terminal 2 and its computers offer more than 200 courses, though information technology and foreign languages are the staple.

After a successful first year, the centre is preparing to open around the clock to cater for staff working shifts. And there are plans to make the facility available to the local community.

It is run as a joint venture between Manchester Airport plc and the city's Training and Enterprise Council. With the airport owned by the 10 local authorities that made up the former Greater Manchester, there is strong encouragement to involve local colleges in delivering courses.

Margaret Boyle, who manages the centre, said: "Many people working in the airport may want to take college courses, but shift patterns make it difficult. This is an ideal way for them to learn. Staff come in for an hour at the end of their shift or on their day off."

With flight timings creating peaks and troughs in the working day, there is also the opportunity to allow staff to use the centre during quiet periods. "It is the sort of flexibility we are looking for to encourage people to use the centre while minimising cost and disruption to the airport," Ms Boyle said.

John Lakeland, the airport's employee development manager, said the centre was helping to ensure staff were appropriately skilled. "We have been trying to push the message to all employees that they have to take responsibility for their own learning."

He said that no company now could guarantee a job for life or that jobs would not change, and that continuing learning helped to cope with those changes.

The centre, which caters for 1,800 airport employees and 17,000 workers in all, was also important for providing management development programmes.

Mr Lakeland said in the past training had not been subjected to the same rigorous business processes as other areas of the company, but that had now changed.

"We have a firm commitment to education for managers within the company, but it can't be regarded as a rest cure. Resources are there for training if it can be justified. There has to be such things as business objectives, personal development and relevance to work," he said.

Cliff Gent, 53, spent 30 years in a manual job, but is now doing a computer course at the centre as well as taking GCSE English to help his chances of being redeployed in an office job.

He said: "Going back to learning is all quite new, but I find it interesting. The computer takes you through the course in easy stages. I think it's important that people learn what they can and I hope to do more courses. The learning centre provides an ideal situation."

Doreen Atherton, 58, is studying courses in time management and budgeting. "What is ideal is that I can come in when it suits me and work at my own pace and if I want to go back and re-visit part of the course I can do that. I think it is important that learning shouldn't stop when you leave school," she said.

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