How learning and development has gone virtual at Thames Reach
We spoke with Sarah Jeeves, Learning and Development Officer, about her work coordinating staff training as it moves online
Learning and development is a crucial part of working at Thames Reach, and during the Covid crisis the ways in which staff have developed their roles and gained new skills have had to adapt. Thames Reach provide a year-round programme of training opportunities including Health and Safety, First Aid, Equality and Diversity and Social and Corporate Responsibility. We spoke with Sarah Jeeves, Learning and Development Officer, about how training has adapted to a new virtual way of working.
What were your main concerns about continuing your learning and development when lockdown started?
At first we were wondering what to do. Of course it wasn’t something we were prepared for, there was no Plan B but I wanted to keep the energy and strategy going despite lockdown. I’d never taught or facilitated teaching online before at Thames Reach, but I realised that we needed to adapt straight away. We still had the annual training programme to accommodate, as well as the Pathways Into Management initiative and the ILM [Institute of Leadership Management] qualification, both of which are training a group of internal candidates to progress in their career within Thames Reach into management roles.
How is virtual training going?
It’s been really well received. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well people have been engaging with everything. Staff seem to be taking it as an opportunity to improve confidence, as they can access training that would usually be done in groups from the comfort of their own home or office, so often will be more comfortable to ask questions and get involved. Across all training, places have stayed fully booked, so people are still engaged and ready to learn. We also have our cohort of trainees, who have come through the traineeship programme which is very popular. They were inducted at the start of May and are now on placement across Thames Reach, adhering to the same social distancing measures as all other staff. It’s going really well, I’ve been in regular contact with lead managers and the trainees’ supervisors and the feedback has been good so far.
How has training adapted?
While it’s definitely nice to have face-to-face interaction, under these circumstances we have to deal with the fact that this isn’t really possible. Now that we’ve gotten used to tech and the administrative side of things, we’re finding that training actually works better online, it’s more efficient. Our Cultural Diversity training, for example, works really well, as everyone can be in one virtual space at once while the trainer is talking, then we can split them into smaller groups once or twice over the course of the day. We do regular Emergency First Aid and Mental Health First Aid courses too, which can’t be done remotely due to the nature of the teaching, so that has been postponed for the time being.
As I said we haven’t been able to do Emergency First Aid as it’s not available from any trainer until lockdown is fully lifted, but it’s been great to see Senior Management get involved with training, and it’s clear that staff really appreciate it. I’ve been making and securing new relationships with trainers and organisers, which has been a big benefit. Homeless Link is one example who have been great to work with; they will be providing training on Managing Conflict, Violence and Aggression, to replace our Working with Challenging Behaviour training that had to be cancelled.
So it sounds like it’s generally been a positive experience. What are you bringing forward into learning and development in the future?
Building relationships with people internally and externally has been really good, I don’t usually get to sit in on training so I’ve learned a lot too. Even just getting to chat with other staff before the training starts has been really nice. I’ve been more hands-on with the tech and administrative sides of training, so it’s been a good learning curve for me. We’re definitely going to make the most of Zoom and Microsoft Teams in the future so training can fit around other work commitments and staff won’t have to travel. I was concerned that ILM and Progression Into Management candidates would lose motivation and momentum but we’ve seen people come together and make the most of virtual opportunities such as webinars, so we’re encouraged by this and looking forward to using these techniques going forward. I also organised Thames Reach’s first Staff Wellbeing Week last September, which was very successful. We’re currently working on doing an adapted version for this year, taking on board everything we’ve learned, so watch this space!
NB: Of course, the photo above was taken long before lockdown, from the fantastic Mental Health First Aid training run by MHFA England, which will resume for staff once lockdown is fully lifted