by Neil Harris
Universities want their staff to be efficient, knowledgeable and effective. Ambitious employees need to develop their skills to make themselves more attractive to their current or prospective employers. Training to develop the skills we have or discover new ones can be a springboard that opens up career development opportunities. It can help you gain promotion where you are, or procure a different job with another employer.
Participating in staff training is a key method of developing your expertise and is vital to all concerned. So it pays to be continually aware of what is on offer wherever you are working. Being too busy to bother, or simply disinterested, can lead to missing out on opportunities that may develop your skills, increase your professionalism, look attractive on your CV and impress potential employers.
Most universities have a staff training and development unit that is either an integral part of the human resources department or loosely attached to it. They often conduct regular skills audits to determine which skills the university's staff need to possess. New areas of training often open up as a result of changes in legislation,
developments in technology or the need to better understand the problems of groups of students from different cultures.
At Queens University Belfast, for example, the Staff Training and Development Unit organises more than 140 courses each year, providing training for over 1400 staff. They also administer funds that cover the fees to allow more than 500 employees to attend external training courses. ‘We run focus groups with different categories of staff such as Contract Researchers', says Paul Monahan their training manager. ‘We ask supervisors and managers about what training is required. We also look to them to come up with ideas for the training they want. Then we complete a training needs analysis to determine which courses we will run as part of our programme during each academic year. We run courses for all types of staff including management and leadership development for senior staff and workshops for technicians'. Some workshops are given by internal staff while other workshops are taken by external training providers such as Lifelines Personal Development Ltd.
For most of us our first taste of training comes when we attend an induction event where we learn more about our new employer and how our terms and conditions of employment are applied in practice.
The training needs of different categories of staff are obviously very different but there are several common themes. For academics and researchers there are often workshops on research techniques, academic writing and how to get your work published. Universities are very commercially minded and need to attract external cash for their research, so training in writing a successful application for
funding is often available. Ideas generated in universities often lead to commercial exploitation and business start ups, so some offer training in intellectual property and the process of securing patents on novel ideas.
Managers are trained in recruitment and selection interviewing, how to carry out staff appraisals and topics such as leadership and team building.
The development of key personal skills is another important category. Workshop topics in this area include Personal Effectiveness, Communication, Public Speaking, Time Management, Negotiating Skills, Assertiveness and Managing Stress.
Safety is a statutory obligation and something that everyone needs to address. Universities often run courses for staff on First Aid, Fire Safety, Risk Assessment and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health.
Universities are much more multicultural than society as a whole, having students from many countries, all walks of life, a broad range of ages and those who suffer a disability. It is essential for staff to be sensitive to the needs of different groups of students and colleagues, so many universities run courses on diversity, cultural and disability awareness.
We all use computers these days but do we use them to the best advantage? Whether it is a question of making that PowerPoint presentation more exciting or gaining an in-depth understanding of how to use some new software, courses are often available to help you improve your performance.
Some universities offer courses that actively help you to develop your career either where you are or somewhere else. They include topics like ‘Career Planning', ‘How to write a CV', ‘Interview Training' and ‘Getting into an Academic Career'.
Universities now provide extensive training for all staff involved in teaching students and improving their learning. This is now compulsory for most newly appointed lecturers. It leads to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy as an associate or fellow and often a qualification such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education. This training is usually provided by a specialist unit that is responsible for the quality of teaching and learning within the institution. At Lancaster University, for example, it is the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.
Anyone who has a role in teaching and learning is expected to attend the relevant training courses. This includes postgraduates acting as demonstrators in laboratories, acting as tutor, or assisting with lecturing. Subjects covered in this training include how to teach students in both large and small groups, how to assess students' work,
curriculum design, how to be an effective tutor and communicate well with learners and how to supervise students in such activities as projects or laboratory work.
The training usually consists of several one day modules covering all the key areas plus a series of written dissertations. Participants build up a portfolio of experience and present this for assessment. Lecturers in their first job are encouraged to see this as a developmental course which takes two or three years to complete and leads to being an Associate of the Higher Education Academy. Experienced academics can apply to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
These courses are also particularly useful for research staff that see a lectureship as the next stage in their career progression and may find opportunities to be a demonstrator or tutor, or assist with the running of a course of lectures.
Universities take the training of their staff seriously and the range of courses available to employees is extensive. Furthermore, as staff members we often have the right to attend training every year as part of our continuing professional development, so managers are generally encouraging. Do take a look at what is offered where you work. You may be surprised by its variety and extent.