John Barton reviews a website that is poised for further developmentDo you want to keep up with the latest information about Skills for Life? Do you need to know what jobs are on offer in your area? Or are you, like me, just nosey and wanting to check how your salary compares with those of a similar grade in your region? Whatever the reason, www.skillsforlifenetwork.com may be the site for you.
This website was started in 2003 by Barbara Zealley and Caryn Loftus (the only ones with those names on Google) as a source of information for Skills for Life practitioners in the North of England. As a free service supported by the Learning and Skills Council it was brilliant but then, as with many of these initiatives, the money dried up. Many similar ideas have fallen by the wayside but, through enterprising schemes such as charging for job adverts, the site has blossomed and gone national with more than 8,000 registered members.
The best way to make effective use of all the facilities is to register and provide all your details, choosing your own username and password. As well as giving your name and job role, you are asked to name your region and to indicate whether you would like email alerts. I would recommend that you do.
Email alert system
The alert system, both national and regional, is what makes the site so special. Once a fortnight you find out what is happening, what courses are being offered and what funding is available. Not only is this helpful to me as a practitioner/manager but it also enables me to tell others in my region about courses I am offering. We've recently offered some intensive Level 4 Numeracy courses; more than half of those who signed up heard about the training through the alert.
There is also an alert for job vacancies. As a manager, I find it helpful for recruiting new staff - much better than the local and national press - and useful for keeping tabs on the 'going rate'. The cost is very reasonable at £295 for one job, with discounts for more adverts during the year.
Links and downloads
What about the rest of the site? Initially the idea was that tutors would provide resources that could be used by colleagues free of charge. The original materials are still there under Resources Downloads, but there are only 23 items and nothing has been added this year. The current emphasis seems to be on promoting specialist publishing houses, whose sponsorship helps to support the site. Could the two not be run sideby- side? I understand that more downloads are due to be added in the autumn, so I wait in anticipation.
I find the Resource Links helpful. Although most of these sites are known to me they are not always easy to find and I can't always remember the name.
The Training & Development section has always been a helpful part of the site. However, this section contains more information from the North East and Yorkshire & Humberside than from the rest of the country, as historically these regional site sections have been LSC-supported.
The site is well worth adding to your favourites and visiting regularly. However, as they have not got everything right yet I feel they would benefit from receiving more feedback from their users. As the site is being redeveloped between now and the autumn, this is a good time to have your say.
If the number of people using the site continues to grow, and the sponsorship revenue continues to increase, this could become the most important central place for all involved in Skills for Life.
John Barton is Subject Area Manager Skills at Selby College