An increasing number of adults throughout Staffordshire are using their time during lockdown to improve their qualifications through distance learning, according to Stoke on Trent College.
The College offers fully funded distance learning courses to those aged 19 or over with Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent postcodes, thanks to funding from the Education Funding Agency.
Over the last few weeks, the Distance Learning team at the college has seen a 100% increase in take up of distance learning qualifications which cover topics ranging from health and wellbeing, or mental health awareness, to team leading, customer service or starting your own business, and would normally cost around £800 to study.
Tara Welch, Distance Learning Co-ordinator at Stoke on Trent College explains: People are taking charge of their own CPD by searching out and completing qualifications in their own time. Those enrolling say they are no longer seeing their professional development as something that their employer must pay for. They are seeking out these opportunities themselves, to adapt their knowledge or increase their skills to prepare for potential economic uncertainty.
Tara adds: “It stands to reason that employers value people who want to better themselves and these courses have been a great way for local people to do that. There are almost 40 different courses to choose from, accredited by the nationally recognised awarding body CACHE NCFE, which places more value on them when searching for jobs or updating CVs.
Tara emphasises that although the courses are online, students do receive help and support to make sure they stay on track and finish the qualification. She explains: “We often have people taking the course who haven’t done any formal learning for a long time. At first this may be daunting for them, but they see that we are here to help them get on and complete it. Then when they complete it, their sense of fulfilment is immense. They often say things like; ‘I can’t believe it; I just didn’t know I had it in me!’
It is very rewarding for them and for us – we’re so pleased to be able to offer these courses to most adults in the community free of charge.”
Jan Cassidy, age 54, from Porthill, had been out of education for many years before starting distance learning courses with the college a couple of years ago. She has studied courses in nutrition and health, equality and diversity, mental health problems, challenging behaviour and business start-up.
She completed the business start-up course over the last few weeks while she has been furloughed from her job as a dog boarder. She explains; “During this difficult time in lockdown, it’s been absolutely brilliant to have the course to focus on during the days – it’s surprising how quickly the days have gone.
I have developed new skills in marketing that I can use with my employer when I go back to work. It’s given me lots of ideas for the business and the confidence to put those ideas forward and get out there to represent the business at events, when I am back at work.”
She adds: “For me, confidence, time and money were big barriers to returning to education after such a long time. The courses were fully funded so I didn’t have to pay anything, and I could do them in my own time. That is what has made the difference – and it has been fantastic. I would say to anybody else considering it, especially my age, if you are afraid to go back into education or if money or time is a barrier to furthering yourself, do these courses. The support you get, the wide range of what you can do – I have done things from health to nutrition, business, mental health – and found them all interesting and educational. It has truly helped to open my eyes to so many different things, and to what I am capable of. I’m excited by what I have learned.”