Training grounds

The assistant manager has been running your care home all weekend but now it’s 11.30am Monday. The decorators are late, the tumble dryer is broken, the doctor is due, two night staff have quit to work in a supermarket, two day staff are not talking to each other, a new resident is arriving and another is due back from hospital. Indeed, it’s a pretty normal week in the offing for the sector’s managers.

On top of this you have three new staff to train and have to arrange NVQs for six more. Eight food hygiene certificates are also coming up for renewal. Your assessor left two months ago and your training provider is swamped. If you put off a lot of other things perhaps you can find an hour to sort this out.

In that hour you will need to identify possible training providers, ask them for prices and details, consider whether their course matches your needs, determine their quality and reliability, consult your staff, organise the training, work out the timescale in which to complete it and, of course, pay for it. And you will probably need some funding to help. Good luck.

Managers yearn for a single point of contact for this type of information. Well, there is. Some organisations that can help include:

– Training organisation Topss. Get in touch with Topss England (in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the respective social care/services council will need to be contacted). There are nine regional committees, regional development officers and usually a small administrative centre. Try the administrative centre first. Topss distributes most of its funding through local independent partnerships. In some areas there may also be a “gateway” to the information you need. There is likely to be a partnership near you and the regional structure will be able to help you find them and perhaps give other advice. Even if the partnerships cannot help with funding they have all jumped through these hoops and will be able furnish a list of reliable training providers, their services and how much they cost. Visit

– Local council. Many local authorities have a separate social services training section. This may be based in the social services department, its corporate section or in external trusts or partnerships. Often there is a manager with responsibility for “workforce development” (or similar) in the independent sector. These folk tend to have a wide remit and can quickly give information about what is available locally and how to access it. Any training provider working with a local authority will have been through the quality assurance mill. If you’re unable to find the right person try the Topss England regional structure again; many of these managers are linked into that in some way. Or try Natopss (the national body of training officers), which will have a local contact at

– Trade organisations. There are many of these and the best ones have a strong local base. Become involved and go to meetings. These are invaluable opportunities for networking and sharing. Nearly everyone there will have common issues and many will have solutions and active initiatives. Above all, these people invest their most precious resource – time – in their own business and the sector as a whole. They are worth talking to.

– Umbrella organisations for training providers. These can give you a list of members in your area. They include learning difficulties organisation the Association for Real Change (  and the Association of Care Trainers and Assessors Network ( There are other local organisations.

– Business Link. Born out of the training and enterprise councils, these are the local business advisory teams. The exact name may vary. Details are available from the website ( Many of these now have strong links with the care sector and can be a valuable source of advice for both local issues and general business advice.

– Learning and Skills Council. The main funding body for further education ( Many of these are funding initiatives in the care sector to match supply and demand. Phone them to find out what is available.

– Set up a local training consortium.  As few as four local care homes each with four staff needing the same training, for example manual handling, have enough candidates to organise a course themselves. One may even have a training room. Although the consortium would need to be formal to prevent problems, this approach works well if all participants cooperate. Do be aware, though, that the administrative burden can be horrendous.

– Train your own NVQ assessors. The lack of assessors is the single biggest blockage in accessing training. Accept that some will leave but also know that you are providing a route of progression for them. This attracts and motivates staff. You don’t have to become a full training centre; you can work with an existing centre. In the not-too-distant future this approach will probably attract mainstream funding as a matter of course.

There is a lot that you can do quickly. It may take a few days, even weeks, to start seeing the results, but it does work. The way to make it work is to gain knowledge and experience from what other people have done before starting to apply it in your own business.

David Mortimer is an independent consultant for workforce development in health and social care. He was previously a regional development officer for Topss England.

Top tips

  • Network. Get in touch with local trade forums. They are invaluable sources of information and opportunity.
  • Use official bodies such as Topss to point you in the right direction. It is what they are there for.
  • Know what you want. Training always seems to be based around the provider. Tell them you want the training on or near your premises at the time you specify and to cover what you want it to.

Rubbish tips

  • Do it all by phone. Never use the internet or go to meetings – they only take up time and money.
  • If you get no reply, or are forwarded to yet another person or just hit a dead end – give up. The effort isn’t worth it.
  • Plunge straight in because you have identified the best possible solution you had the time to find.

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