Focus: People Management - St John's students ready to graduate

Graham Willgoss,

They have completed a sector management course at the University of Derby.

The first group of volunteers to take the St John Ambulance foundation degree in voluntary sector management have completed their course at the University of Derby.

The two-year degree was launched by the university in September 2003, in conjunction with Derbyshire St John Ambulance. It was designed to meet a shortfall of qualified management level voluntary staff within the organisation.

Modules include making contributions to the charity's training sessions.

Students also study personal and professional development, managing change in the voluntary sector, developing young adults, health and safety, and mentoring and motivating staff.

The work-based qualification, which involves learning through the internet and some classroom-based sessions, is aimed at people who already have some experience of the voluntary sector.

Ken Cook, commander of Derbyshire St John Ambulance, wrote to the University of Derby with the intention of establishing a degree course that taught skills relevant to the needs of his organisation.

"I wanted to raise our capacity," he says. "Previously, our members' qualifications were only recognised within St John's, and we wanted a qualification that would be given wider recognition."

The degree is equivalent to a Higher National Diploma or NVQ level four.

Fourteen students completed the course, of whom 11 will be continuing their studies in voluntary sector management.

"It's not a case of what you can do for St John's, but what St John's can do for you," says Cook. "Although it raises the capacity and status of St John's, which makes us more efficient as an organisation, it also benefits our volunteers, who can use their qualification for advancement in their working lives."

Most students had to juggle their studies with full-time employment and St John Ambulance duties.

Cook says other organisations can benefit from their staff taking the degree. "Our big issue was of leadership and management because that was our need at the time," he explains. "But a foundation degree can be adapted to suit any requirement. It is built on units, so you can pick and mix your modules to study what suits you.

"It can cater to the particular needs of the particular volunteer - for example, we have a child protection unit so our volunteers took a child protection module."

Graduates will be presented with their degrees at a ceremony in January.

The second intake of students are about to complete their first year.

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