Reaching for the stars

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Written by Seun Robert-Edomi on 7 July 2014 in Interviews

In our series of the winners of TJ’s 2013 Awards, Seun Robert-Edomi talks to the winners of the best not-for-profit programme

An organisation that helped to enhance and equip clients with the skills to pursue employment was recognised at last year’s TJ Awards.

Phoenix Futures, a provider of holistic drug and alcohol treatments, was the winner of the gold award for best not-for-profit programme at the November awards.

The firm was praised for helping service users to move forward and work towards qualifications that could help them when moving into further education.

Kimberley Hare, managing director of Kaizen Training and category judge, said: “The idea behind this application is highly commended.”

Within the Phoenix L&D team, the challenge facing them was that service users were entering either residential, community or prison drug and alcohol treatment, engaging in a therapeutic treatment programme and doing well but having no formal training or qualifications to progress on with to become fully functioning members of society.

Without the intervention of outside colleges, service users were leaving prepared to face life without drugs and alcohol but, finding it extremely difficult to secure education or employment. Initially, some of Phoenix’s services accessed colleges to deliver various courses and training programmes with the aim of improving service users’ education, however; there was limited access to potential courses and training programmes on offer. 

The L&D team then created a programme with the aim of delivering functional skills to suit the needs of the service users; support them into tailored qualifications with a desire to enhance their employability and guide them into further education.  This would be achieved through an initial screening and diagnostics backed up by learning resources and ultimately improved levels of literacy and numeracy.

Phoenix carried out a survey of their clients, focusing on their qualifications. It revealed that 21 per cent of adult service users do not have any formal qualifications. The survey concluded that for a variety of reasons, service users lacked basic education or training or had no formal evidence of their vocational level. This was further backed up by individual care planning and clients asking for help to access training and qualifications both internally and externally.

The business objectives of the programme was to bring peer mentoring and future life-skills, employability, practical conservation skills and core personal development training to clients without external restrictions, with a view in the future to take it externally and offer this service to other provider’s in the same field.

The organisation wanted service users to be able to either gain literacy or numeracy qualification or to obtain an Open College Network (OCN) certificate in tailored qualifications that met the needs of the client base.

The decision was made that all OCN qualifications would be delivered through a workbook. Screening tools were used to support the literacy and numeracy was managed by an online platform. The thinking behind this was that by creating a standardised approach to the learning, they would be able to ensure that all clients regardless of location would get the best opportunity available. Equally, they would be able to monitor this more effectively and respond quicker if any issues became evident.

As a result of the programme, 170 service users have been supported to obtain OCN qualifications. Some of the clients have gone on to do further education at university and in one case there is a client that is working towards a teaching degree. 

Liz Webster, category judge, said: “There was clear passion for the scheme from all the team presenting and the judges were also impressed with the vision and future plans on how this approach will be scaled up in the coming months and years.”

Stuart Plant, learning and development adviser at Phoenix Futures was delighted to have won.

“It was amazing to have been the winners. We do a lot of in-house training. We have just started formalising our training for our service users. It was the first time we had entered any kind of national training programme so for us to be shortlisted was great," he said.

“We knew our programme was meaningful but we didn’t know how it’d be perceived by the wider audience. We went to the evening with little expectations. We hadn’t prepared to win. We saw some of the people who we were up against so to win is really something else.”

There was a key factor in making the initiative a winner, he said.

“One of our service users agreed to come along to the face-to-face interview with the judges. She did a number of the qualifications with us. She was struggling with low self-worth prior to this but through work with us, she has now got herself into employment.

The judges could see for themselves real tangible evidence of the programme working through the testimony she gave – and for me, that definitely counted in our favour when it came to the judging process.

“Allowing people the opportunity to develop and become a better rounded person was innovative for us.”


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