Job Centre Plus
As a work coach at Jobcentre Plus in Dundee, Andrew Dainty was aware of the potential of open education courses to help his customers get back into employment. Andrew is also a Learning Co-ordinator for his union and when he saw the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland project present at an STUC forum, he asked the team to meet with his colleagues.
Andrew and his colleagues assist people into work by encouraging individuals to take up additional courses or work experience, and through growing their confidence. Their customers are of all ages, and come from a variety of backgrounds, from graduates to people with little formal learning, and include, lone parents, carers, and people with disabilities or mental health issues.
As a Learning Co-ordinator for his branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union, Andrew has always had an interest in learning. He was aware that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were freely available on platforms like FutureLearn and Coursera, and could already see their potential for his customers, when he came across the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project at an STUC Tayside Learning Forum.
Andrew asked the OEPS team to present to his colleagues at a staff development day to develop their knowledge and understanding of open educational resources (OER). More than 80 people attended the OEPS presentations which were positively received and led to much discussion about how the vast range of OER that were freely available online could be used with customers.
Open education courses have since been used in Jobcentre Plus in Dundee to enable customers to upskill or fill a knowledge gap, and to put their learning on their CV. In addition to being free, many open courses can be downloaded onto mobile devices, or in some cases, into a word format, which allows customers to study at a time that suits them and fits around their other commitments.
Courses suggested to customers have included the University of Sheffield MOOCs, How to Succeed at Writing Applications and How to Succeed at Interview which are available on FutureLearn. In addition, Andrew and his colleagues suggest the maths courses on BBC Bitesize for the many job applicants who have to demonstrate their maths skills through an online test before they are given an interview. Customers are also provided with a list of the main MOOC providers and are encouraged to search for courses that are relevant to them. These open courses have been found to boost customers' confidence and to encourage the take up of more formal study.
'MOOCs have provided a lifeline for customers at Jobcentre Plus,' said Andrew. 'The only resistance we have had is people finding it hard to believe there is no up front fee and that there isn't some kind of catch.'
Given the successful use of open learning materials with customers in Dundee and Tayside, Andrew is hoping to meet with senior staff to encourage all Jobcentre Plus staff across Scotland to offer similar learning experiences to customers.
Andrew has also shared his experience with Learning Co-ordinators from different unions at the STUC learning forum, where colleagues from the Educational Institute of Scotland have shown a particular interest in how they could use open educational learning to support learning in secondary schools.
As a regular attendee at OEPS forums, Andrew has highlighted how he and his colleagues are using open educational materials outside a formal learning context.
Individual examples of Jobcentre Plus customers who have successfully used open educational resources to go on to gain employment or to take up further study are set out below.
· A customer who had no standard grades undertook five engineering related courses using Alison.com and successfully passed the entrance tests to undertake a pre-apprentice course at college. They are now studying for an NC in Engineering at Dundee and Angus College. The college used the Alison.com courses as evidence of ability and potential to undertake the engineering courses.
· A customer, who is an Employment and Support Allowance support customer, is currently undertaking psychology- related courses using FutureLearn. Following on from these courses she has registered for a degree with the open university to study Psychology and Counselling starting in October 2017.
· A Job Seekers Allowance customer, who was interested in teaching, undertook a number of courses on FutureLearn to boast her confidence. She is now studying with the Open University for a bachelor of education whilst still looking for work. She started the university degree in 2016.
· A Job Seekers Allowance customer, who had a HND in Art and Design, undertook open learning courses on FutureLearn to increase his knowledge of literature and is now studying for an Arts and Humanities degree with the Open University.
· A customer used the BBC Bitesize website to develop her maths skills and passed the entrance exam for an National Certificate course at college. She did not have a standard grade in maths but by using BBC Bitesize, she developed her skills to the right level to pass the entrance exam set by the college.
· A science graduate who was claiming JSA used FutureLearn to develop her skills in related subjects, including robotics, and is now planning to study for a Masters Degree and obtain work within the NHS as a Lab Assistant. She felt her original degree was too narrow for Lab Work and therefore used science and technology courses on FutureLearn to broaden her knowledge.