A team of emergency workers is swapping mining tunnels for laptops as part of its latest mission. Ten employees of Mines Rescue, which is based in Mansfield, have embarked on a learndirect Learning through Work course to develop their knowledge and skills.
Mines Rescue was set up more than 100 years ago to work in one of the most dangerous environments imaginable. The Coal Authority remains a key client, and Mines Rescue attends all coal-mining-related hazards. The company has diversified into other areas including health and safety training and consultancy.
The firm has become one of the first businesses to take advantage of a Derby University project funded by the European Social Fund to develop higher-level knowledge and skills designed to meet the needs of specific businesses.
The Mines Rescue students all come from a mining background, and none has studied at university before. The Certificate of Achievement course they are working towards is a higher education qualification providing 30 credits. It can stand on its own or be a step on the path to a diploma or degree. Each learning contract is designed with the organisation and individual learners in mind and delivers tangible performance benefits.
Andrew Watson, commercial director of Mines Rescue, is a Learning through Work degree student. In consultation with Derby's Learning through Work team, he designed his own course of study - mines rescue management - to look at challenges and potential developments.
"Our decision to become involved in this project is part of a process of continual improvement and change," Watson says. "We have developed from being part of a nationalised industry to a private enterprise that relies on co-operation and motivated staff.
"We carry out critical rescue work for many industries in addition to supporting the mining sector. This demands that our staff have at least two years' experience of working underground. We have the best-trained people for the most dangerous kinds of rescue work, and we train the fire service in specialist rescue skills.
"Because Mines Rescue is a constantly changing, non-traditional business, tailor-made training that meets the needs of our business is a viable and extremely worthwhile investment."
The Government has set challenging targets for higher education participation. Learning through Work has a key role to play in achieving this ambition. The online system is being rebuilt this year to enhance its scope for use by the higher education sector. Other courses include development, change management, project management, marketing innovation, and coaching and mentoring.
The supplier network is to be further developed to include more institutions and more comprehensive regional coverage. Target markets include businesses and intermediaries, such as sector skills councils and regional development agencies. It will build on the current system and will provide better support for part-time learners and learners progressing to higher education from non-traditional routes, such as apprenticeships.
Learning through Work is fostering relationships between further and higher education to encourage student progress. This involves a resource called "Working and Learning", which is designed to help people in the workforce develop skills that will allow them to engage with university-level learning. This is particularly useful as an introduction for non-traditional learners and is being used by the Open University in one of its foundation degrees.
For more information about the learndirect Learning through Work programme, visit www.learndirect-ltw.co.uk or contact Learning through Work on 0114 291 5330.