The Open University (OU) worked closely with Acas to create a unique qualification that not only provides its helpline staff with additional knowledge and expertise, but also assists them to take more responsibility for their own development.
“We have not only noticed improvements with our advisers who have studied with the OU, but have also found they have made positive impacts on their teams.”
Rob Deeks, Delivery Training Manager at Acas
Acas wanted to increase the knowledge and skills of its helpline staff. The Acas Helpline forms the core of the organisation’s service and its 170 helpline advisers across Great Britain handle between 4,000 and 5,000 calls a day, to provide employment law advice directly to employers and individuals.
Chris Bean, Senior Learning and Development Manager at Acas, said:
“Helpline advisers are recruited for their ability and enthusiasm to work effectively and give compassionate advice by phone to a diverse range of clients, but most have no prior legal training. We provide them with basic and advanced training which is of a high standard. What we wanted to do as the next step in the learning journey was develop the advisers further to provide specialist support. We wanted to do this in the framework of a portable qualification which would also recognise the quality of our internal training which was quite a challenge”
Acas were looking for a development solution that could be created and rolled out within six months of initial conversations. Learning needed to fit within Acas’ existing training and development pathways and had to provide consistent content and support to a dispersed workforce.
The OU worked with Acas to design and implement a brand new qualification for the organisation – the Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Professional Practice (Employment Law). Chris Bean said,
“From the outset what impressed us was that the OU were keen to ensure that the solution that was delivered was right for Acas. At an early stage the team visited the Helpline and listened to calls to understand first-hand the complexities of working as an Adviser.”
The qualification builds on existing training and development undertaken by Acas and consists of six employment law modules and two assessment modules, which were designed to encourage participants to practice, develop and embed their new-found knowledge into their roles.
Rob Deeks, Delivery Training Manager at Acas, said:
“We wanted advisers to develop new skills around legal research and become more self-sufficient in managing their own development. This is particularly important as employment law changes frequently. The OU’s expertise in helping students integrate theory into practice was very important.”
In keeping with Acas’ ethos and values, it is a voluntary programme and is open to all helpline advisers regardless of their prior educational background.
The learning style offered by the OU combines various forms of online learning with face-to-face time with employment law and reflective practice experts. Rob Deeks said,
“The OU’s flexible delivery approach made it possible for us to minimise the number of advisers away from the Helpline at any one time, which was key for us.” Participants can discuss and develop cross-regional relationships with their colleagues through online forums.”
At the end of the programme, participants are evaluated by members of their immediate work circle and are asked to provide a self-evaluation. This reinforces the link between the competencies, behaviours and values required for their role and also gives participants a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, providing a sound basis for development planning and performance improvement.
The qualification runs for 12 months and has been completed by 60 participants to date.
“The relationship with The Open University through the project has been highly collaborative.”
Staff are also seeing the benefits. Participants and their line managers are asked to give their views on the value of the programme through quantitative and qualitative surveys and workshops. More than 9 out of 10 say that the programme has met expectations.
Over 95% of the participants reported a greater understanding of relevant case law and an ability to seek out new CPD. Rob Deeks said
“The OU has helped us to create a more proactive learning culture on the Helpline, enabling advisers to effectively integrate formal learning, learning from others and learning on the job, so they are even more effectively able to deliver more nuanced and tailored advice to almost one million clients annually.”
The qualification has been renewed for a further threeyears. Rob Deeks said
“The relationship with The Open University through the project has been highly collaborative. We wanted the programme to start within six months and the OU did not disappoint in making sure we met this tight deadline. They had the resources and expertise to make it happen and continue to provide a quality service.”
Acas is a government funded organisation, established in 1974. Its aim is to promote the improvement of employment relations throughout the Great Britain. Acas is primarily known for their work in preventing and resolving workplace disputes but also offers a range of other services aimed at improving organisations and working life through better employment relations. The organisation has approximately 900 staff, based in 12 offices across Great Britain.