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A Qualified Success for CFA Staff

23 May 2007

Working for small companies can be a great way to 'learn the ropes' in business, but at the other end of the scale, large organisations can offer valuable opportunities for development and career advancement.

The key to a successful career often relies on a commitment to life-long learning. There are many ways one can 'learn', from hands-on experience to a formal tertiary qualification. Or, you can do both at once, as a group of CFA employees recently discovered when they completed a qualification on the job.

As a Registered Training Organisation, CFA invests significant time and effort in the training of its approximately 58,000 volunteer and 1,200 staff members. Training is integral to firefighter safety and the effectiveness of the staff who work to support them. CFA volunteers and staff work in a vast range of roles, such as community educators, scientists, engineers, journalists, weather specialists, secretaries, mechanics, accountants - the list is endless. As well as providing firefighting training, CFA offers a variety of development options for members; training in management, leadership and communication skills are particularly important.

In the finance area, CFA's Director of Finance and Administration, Michael Wootten, saw an opportunity to develop administrative staff. "The Administrative Services Manager, Martyn Bona suggested the idea offering a Certificate IV in Finance and Administration. Many of our staff come into this area with general office skills and, through experience, come to gain a high level of knowledge and expertise. The Certificate IV is a way to recognise their ability and reward their achievements, and it's a nationally recognised qualification that will augment their future career path," Mr Wootten said.

CFA sourced funding through Apprenticeships Victoria and worked collaboratively with the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) to develop the course. The program was delivered through a series of workshops over fourteen months, with a break from study during the fire season.

The twenty course participants came from all over Victoria; from Mildura in the north-west to Sale in the south-east. The group represented a diverse range of experience and backgrounds, and reflected the broad range of people who work for CFA. This, of course, provided challenges for the CFA and NMIT program coordinators who had to create a program that 'hit the mark' for both the participants and CFA.

NMIT's Business Enterprise Centre is experienced at providing customised training for both large and small organisations. The Centre's Business Manager, Colleen Austin, worked closely with CFA to design an appropriate program. "The participants had mostly received on the job training specific to the tasks they performed. We identif ied the outcomes required both by CFA management and the participants which led to the decision to provide the Certificate IV in Financial Services.

The delivery of the course had to be flexible to cater for the different needs of participants who had to juggle their study with work, together with other commitments such as family or volunteer activities. The commitment of participants to the course was clear, particularly when one took a day away from her maternity leave to attend a workshop, together with her new baby.

CFA training staff coordinated the workshops in various locations around the State and provided advice to NMIT regarding the development of course materials. The materials included specific content requirements, examples, case studies and processes relevant to the CFA work environment. Assignments were designed to be workplace relevant, so participants were able to complete assignments both on the job and in their own time.

As an introduction to the course, NMIT presented information on returning to study and clarified the level of work that would be required. This was particularly valuable for participants who had not studied since high school and were perhaps feeling a little daunted by the prospect of undertaking a qualification.

The collaborative effort between NMIT and CFA continued throughout the program. Regular reviews of the course coordination and facilitation were conducted, and improvements were implemented to make sure participants received maximum benefit from each workshop. "Evaluations were conducted following each workshop. Qualitative and quantitative data was collected to ensure an accurate assessment could be made of the training's effectiveness. We were focussed at all times on ensuring the program led to successful outcomes for all parties", said Colleen Austin.

A NMIT trainer was also appointed as a 'mentor' to each participant. The mentors kept participants on track and attended meetings with their managers to discuss progress, which allowed managers to be actively involved in the learning process. As well as monitoring progress, managers could provide coaching and support to ensure participants were able to apply their learning in the workplace.

Based in Mildura, Marita Miller is quite isolated from the rest of CFA. Although Marita's manager works 2½ hours away in Swan Hill and is always accessible by phone or email, she travelled to Mildura each month to help Marita throughout the course. "The support I received from my manager was invaluable to my successful completion of the course and was evidence of her support for the program and my development," Marita said.

The main outcome from programs like this is that more staff members are formally educated in their area of expertise. Participants are more aware of their role in meeting the organisation's corporate responsibilities, and the organisation has recognised and invested in staff members who have potential for advancement. The Certificate IV has been a great success for all involved; each of the twenty participants was awarded their certificate at a graduation ceremony in late March. A second program is planned for 2007 and another group of people will experience one of the benefits of belonging to a large organisation.

 

Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener, on (03) 92691579, 0413 483 182 or jamesgardener@nmit.vic.edu.au

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.