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Advice Skills Academy: Case Study

Advice Skills Academy was an innovative project supported by the European Union through the European Social Fund (ESF), that built the skills and knowledge of staff working within the Citizens Advice services across the Liverpool City Region.

What was Advice Skills Academy?

Advice Skills Academy was a training and development programme aimed at enhancing the skills and knowledge of staff in the advice sector within the region. In creating the Academy, The Women’s Organisation have developed a framework to help understand the training needs of staff, creating an individual learning plan for each team member. This means that staff take ownership of their own development through a 70-20-10 model, combining direct training opportunities with encouragement for individual learning and development.

Impact on the organisation

As the programme began, The Women’s Organisation team provided detailed project management, tailoring each learning plan to build each individual’s confidence and ownership. For many of those undertaking the programme, it led to a ‘back to basics’ approach, re-evaluating assumptions about their methods, and soon the team were making significant changes to their routine.

Specific training around Mental health awareness, Universal Credit and GDPR rules were introduced, and they even used Myers Briggs quizzes to better understand individual learning styles and needs.

A gold standard from IIP

With such a strong focus on self-learning, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice St Helens, Karl Pearce was not sure his team would embrace the programme. “It was a new thing and obviously you are wary about what to expect and whether it will work.” But once the process began, his decision to take the leap paid off right away.

When staff and volunteers were interviewed by Investors in People, the personal and organisational impact of Advice Skills Academy really shone through.

“When they were interviewed by the IIP assessor, every single one said how good the Advice Skills Academy has been. Taking ownership of learning and development plans, actively looking for training to develop themselves.”

As a result, Citizens Advice St Helens were awarded a Gold Standard, an achievement Karl firmly attributes to the ASA programme. While the team had earned it once before, back in 2014, Karl believes the second time round was an even bigger achievement.

One of the key elements mentioned the IIP assessment was the fact that they now dedicate time specifically for training. As Karl explains: “We regularly close the office now every quarter for a full day of training and development as standard. We did not do that in the past. We book out time in diaries for people’s learning.”

Empowering people

Overall the assessment showed that Advice Skills Academy is empowering people. People are encouraged to take the lead and have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills themselves.

With such a huge organisational impact, Karl was quick to recommend Advice Skills Academy to other organisations. “Go for it…The ASA Project has brought in excellent practice in terms of the Individual Learning Plan process. It is embedding good practice. It has been fantastic from our point of view, and long may it continue. It is about continuous improvement, always wanting to improve. If you stand still you can only go backwards. If you give your staff that little bit of investment you will reap the rewards.”

How was Advice Skills Academy funded?

The project is part-funded by the European Social Fund as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England. The Department for Work and Pensions (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for the England European Social Fund programme. Established by the European Union, the European Social Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support skills development, employment and job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

Visit Advice Skills Academy Website