Equipping employees with the abilities required by businesses has been a learning experience for City of Glasgow College in the Covid-19 era, but one that has allowed them to hone their training

Further education is critical to Scotland’s social and economic future. Businesses need access to high-quality employees if they are to prosper, and the country’s college network is a primary source of training in the necessary skills.

Educators and company leaders need to work closely together and this mutually beneficial dependence is nurtured by initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund. 

City of Glasgow College is one of the primary institutions delivering training under this initiative. Its teaching has changed dramatically in recent months as a response to the pandemic, with more than 400 fund courses delivered remotely to over 3,500 delegates since April.

Government ministers reacted quickly to the virus – overall the fund increased from £10 million to £20m for 2020/21. The college also had to adapt quickly to a new and very different learning environment.

“We are delighted that we have been able to continue to support business through this pandemic,” says Carla Gethin, City of Glasgow College’s Director, Business and International Partnerships.

HeraldScotland:

“This fund recognises that the college sector is crucial and it means that we can play our full part in education and skills recovery after Covid. We do have significant engagement with our national and local employers. 

“We’ve always had flexibility with our employers. Of course we were facing a challenge, but we already had provision to meet their skills needs. 

“We then had to get that provision ready for delivery on an online platform, but we were able to respond quickly.”

While the college’s ethos of working closely with employers and delivering on their needs is well embedded, staff still faced significant challenges in adapting to the issues resulting from Covid.

“Until this virus came along 99 per cent of our course delivery happened on a face-to-face basis,” explains Douglas Thomson, the college’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund Manager.

HeraldScotland:

“Most of it was done directly in a room, so we had to switch away from that. The core subjects may not have changed, but the emphasis has shifted slightly – we’ve all become much more familiar with online conferencing than we were before.”

How did they make the rapid change in course delivery the pandemic necessitated? “Basically, we cancelled everything from mid-March through April and used those six weeks to look at what we were going to do.

“We realised we were going to have to move online and our lecturers formed a team to optimise our model for this new type of learning, and we’re continuing to refine our model. It was certainly a challenge, but our people have been fantastic.”

One advantage of the fund, Thomson  says, is that it has allowed employers to move beyond courses they are legally required to offer their staff into other areas of training that are important but often do not get pursued.

“It has allowed them to go to longstanding areas of training need and address issues such as productivity. That’s a very positive change.”

The sheer size of the college – it is one of the largest in Europe, designed to cater for up to 40,000 students – means it is able to offer an extensive range of courses alongside a huge amount of invaluable guidance and expertise.

Businesses were contacted by college staff in order to clarify their training priorities and to identify the support they would need to move to virtual learning.

Where companies felt this was a particular challenge, college staff were there to help. Engagement with employers during the first few weeks of the pandemic was vital and, for Radisson Hotels UK Ltd, the college’s ability to adapt was key, as Sarah Penkett, Learning and Development Manager for Radisson, explained:

“For the first time this year Radisson Hotel Group used the Flexible Workforce Development Fund and partnered with City of Glasgow College who supported our business with a selection of half and full-day training courses for our heads of departments and supervisors. 

“Topics included areas such as emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and building and leading teams. Feedback from our employees was amazingly positive with many saying it improved their confidence. In light of Covid-19 the college has been outstanding at rescheduling courses and changing to a digital format where required.”

Courses on offer to businesses include a broad range in the area of interpersonal management skills. Examples include development training for staff promoted to supervisor or manager level.

“We also do quite a lot of culture change coaching and mentoring for organisations as well as communications training,” says Thomson. 

“Then there’s office, health and safety and technical skills as well as specialist learning in things like accident investigation training. No two courses are the same. We work with businesses, the creative industries, local authorities and the third sector. They all have different motivations and needs and the training reflects that – we work with them all to find exactly what they want to get out of it.”

One distinct advantage City of Glasgow College enjoyed in moving to online learning is that it already had experience in delivering courses remotely through its highly successful international programme.

Its global learning portfolio currently includes providing learning in hospital and elderly care in Malaysia; English in Indonesia; hospitality, digital design and professional cookery in India; mechanical and electrical engineering in Vietnam; and bakery in Malta.

“We have some 110 partnerships around the world with 30 different countries,” says Carla. 

“That brings back a lot of value to Glasgow and to Scotland. Reskilling and upskilling is going to be required the world over – that’s particularly true because of Covid. 

“We’ve engaged with governments around the world. We’re leading the way both in Glasgow and globally. 

“It is an exceptionally competitive field, but we’re involved in a lot of different projects ranging from maritime to dementia care.”

Thomson believes that one of the benefits of the forced disruption seen this year is that it has deepened links between the college and business. 

“I think that will continue and expand. No-one saw Covid coming, but we have responded well and I think there are positives flowing from that.”