The Open University: Unique Flexible Learning

For its 50th anniversary the Open University (OU) has gone on a road trip around Scotland. On Thursday, 3rd of October it came to Orkney.

Open University

Launched in Dundee, the Open university is proud of its Scottish roots. Dedicated to widening access to education there are currently 16,500 students in Scotland. 70% of its students are on incomes of less than £25,000.

It is estimated that businesses on average spend £17,000 recruiting workers and that it is easier for a person to leave an organisation and seek employment elsewhere than progress at their current place. Upskilling is crucial in retaining and planning for succession as the double whammy of Brexit and an aging workforce takes effect.

At the event in the Pickquoy, Kirkwall an audience of local organisations heard speakers from VisitScotland, Orkney Housing Association and NHS Orkney on the challenges and successes  in upskilling.

Andrew Cunningham, Learning and Organisational Development Manager for VistScotland explained how the way people engage with tourism has changed. This resulted in the closure of many of their offices, reducing them from 80 to only 26.

VisitScotland make use of OU’s “on demand” learning – free courses in a wide range of subjects from Law to Learning Gaelic.

Click on this link: OpenLearn Scotland

All three speakers spoke of the importance of both the modern apprenticeship and graduate apprenticeship schemes for upskilling their workforce and succession planning.

Craig Spence, Chief Executive of Orkney Housing Association, explained that People are central to the not-for-profit organisation where the workforce of 35 are valued and respected.

When a member of staff retires Craig said:

“No one leaves without recognition of the wonderful contribution they have made”

All businesses and organisations in Orkney are having to adjust to an aging islands demographic. Julie Colquhoun, Head of Corporate Services at NHS Orkney explained the challenges this presents.

NHS Orkney is on the whole a very stable workforce with the majority of nurses never having worked anywhere else. There are many, however, who are soon to retire and this will be a loss to the service of their experience and skills. 19% of NHS Orkney’s workforce could potentially retire in 1 to 2 years with 34% of nurses due to retire in the next 5 years.

Julie Colquhoun, who is herself an OU graduate said that the Open University has been  hugely successful for NHS Orkney. This year 3 graduate nurses are in full time posts. 16 modern apprentices are in full time posts and 6 nurses have completed their Diploma to Degree as part of succession planning. Having their own tutor in Orkney has been significant in taking this forward.

Low morale and high absence has affected difficult positions to fill in domestic staff and switchboard operatives but NHS Orkney has built up a relationship with both the OU and Orkney College to deliver courses. This has led to more males in the domestic staff sector and a development of career pathways.

For nurses wishing to return to their career after time out there is a Return to Practice Programme which  can done in Orkney.

The OU’s unique flexible learning has allowed many individuals to study and achieve qualifications. OpenLearning with 60 million visitors has 1000 free courses that anyone can access.

It is possible to do an Open Degree which is tailored to the student’s needs with no prescribed pathway allowing people to mix and match across subject levels.

For employers there are Graduate Apprenticeships fully funded by Skills Development Scotland, at no cost to the employer, with the focus on Cyber Security and Software Development.

Click on this link for more information: Graduate Apprenticeships 

And this is a reminder of where it all started

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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