With so much change happening in children's and youth services, it is understandable that many people working in the sector might not relish the idea of taking a day or two out of their busy schedules for training. They may even question how much they can really learn in such a short time to justify the cost and time away from the office.
But training courses can provide invaluable opportunities for busy workers to take stock, review what they're doing and gather ideas for how to make their job easier and use their time more effectively. The beauty of short courses is they usually involve practical skills that can be applied instantly to the job.
For Alison Rowan, training development officer of Children in Scotland, they also provide workers with an opportunity to reflect on what they already know. "People realise they know more than they think they do and they get a good confidence boost," she says.
The other major advantage is that short courses are not a strain on the purse strings. Most providers will offer open courses that anyone can attend, and bespoke in-house courses where travel and accommodation expenses can be avoided. Short courses can also be quickly organised in response to the political environment, such as changes in government policy.
Some courses can also be tailored to a client's needs in consultation with the trainer, although there might be a fee for this extra course planning. As for open courses, these can provide a fertile networking ground, with delegates able to talk to people at other organisations in similar positions to themselves.
But Mark Lacey, training manager at the Fostering Network, believes it is important for organisations to think carefully about what they hope staff will gain from the training before they spend on courses. His organisation provides training on all aspects of foster care, which includes courses for managers, commissioners and supervisors in the sector. As well as offering generic good practice courses, the Fostering Network runs specialist courses on themes such as looking after children who have been sexually abused or recruiting lesbian and gay carers. Open courses are charged at £125 per person, per day and are organised around school hours.
Interaction aids learning
To ensure its delegates get the most from their day, it produces publications, such as its Pathways resource book, as well as a CD-Rom and workbook that they can take away. Another element that Lacey believes is key to effective learning is making the sessions interactive, by including lots of role-play and real-life case study discussion.
Yvonne Quinn, managing director of FPM Training, agrees this approach works best: "We believe in interactive, experiential courses, not chalk 'n' talk. You learn much more that way."
Employers generally use short courses to help top-up or refresh their staff's existing skills or provide quick, practical knowledge around a specific subject. According to Children in Scotland, it is the core subjects that remain popular. "Dealing with conflict is a key topic in which we specialise. In terms of our short courses, there is a perennial demand for courses on behaviour management and child protection," says Rowan.
Leadership and management
FPM specialises in leadership and management courses, tailored for those working in integrated youth services. Quinn argues that attending a sector-specific leadership course is more useful than one of the many generic courses available on the market.
"There is so much going on in youth services that a generic programme just won't address the key issues," she says. "All our short courses have input around specific policy outlining clearly the impact on delegates. We also focus a lot on integration, the hot issue of the day, such as our Managing a Service in an Integrated Team course," adding that she believes there is a big need for training for front line staff as there are growing demands at this level.
FPM chief executive Kevin Ford says that short courses should be aligned to key learning required in National -Occupational Standards and qualifications frameworks. This way staff will be able to demonstrate that they are learning skills that are core to their job.
Fees for some short courses can be high so it's worth shopping around for a good deal. Some training providers, such as Fairbridge, which specialises in offering advice on how to best work with young people, are able to stagger course fees depending on the organisation and, as such, are particularly popular for small community groups.
Fairbridge charges small community groups £49 + VAT per day, medium-sized community groups £99 + VAT and the statutory sector £160 + VAT.
One day course aimed at youth workers, called Young People and Money Management, is free, as it is funded by the Financial Services Authority.
Training manager Richard Thornton says: "This short course is an example of how a day out of the office can really hit the mark because it is so full of useful, practical tips.
"Many youth workers have commented that the course really helped them personally, having previously thought it was a dull subject."
It is also worth approaching local umbrella organisations to see if they can assist with training. For instance, Partnership for Young London, the reg-ional youth work unit in the capital, plans to co-ordinate training among its membership of statutory youth and young people's services, although it is currently seeking funding for the proposal.
Other bodies, such as London Youth, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, and the National Children's Bureau, run their own courses for members at discounted rates.
Esther Thompson, head of training for London Youth, says: "Our training programmes are influenced by youth workers on the ground. Because we're a membership organisation, they let us know what training they need."
1 Be very clear before you send people on training about what you want them to get out of the course. There is little point sending a reluctant employee unless they believe there is something to be gained.
2 Ask providers about the style of teaching - experts generally agree that delegates learn more if sessions are interactive and case study-led, rather than focused on a trainer delivering a presentation throughout.
3 Ensure you get feedback from delegates you have sent on a course to establish if it was good value for money and worth rebooking in future.
4 In-house courses tend to be cheaper and can often cater for about 20 delegates. To make the most of this cost-saving, you could team up with a local organisation to co-commission a course.
5 Beware that if you are commissioning a tailored course to your needs, there may be an extra consultancy fee involved in designing this. Find out the cost before you start planning.