Arianne, Lisa and Berni are set to qualify as RCN learning reps at the end of September. They’re excited, enthusiastic, and already making a difference.
“In March, our employer Interserve Healthcare signed a national learning agreement with the RCN,” says Arianne, explaining how she came to take up the role. “The aim of the agreement is to promote and support learning and development, and help people to access all of the resources offered by the RCN.”
Interserve Healthcare employs nursing staff in 16 branches across the UK, and the agreement covers those working for the company as agency staff too.
Arianne says the idea is to make sure that learning is embedded within every part of the organisation: “There are five learning reps undertaking training at the moment and we’re quite a mixed bunch in terms of the roles we do, which means we all have different areas that we can tap into.”
The idea is to make sure that learning is embedded within every part of the organisation
Arianne and Berni are clinical assurance assessors. They work in the governance team providing assurance that best practice and the right procedures are being followed. Lisa, a clinical quality nurse, is part of the team that supports staff in the regional branches to deliver care.
Arianne elaborates: “Berni and I won’t have as much direct contact with our nurses and health care assistants (HCAs) as Lisa and the others do – we have some but not as much.
“Instead, we’ll be able to steer where we’re headed from a policy perspective, guiding the company in terms of how it might want to build the learning rep role and making sure it’s included in our clinical framework.
“The other two learning reps – Catia and Amy– are branch nurses. They’re directly responsible for the nurses and HCAs in their area so they’re also in a great position to tap into local needs and to let people know about the benefits of becoming an RCN member.”
I know it can feel like a chore to keep up to date with training. I want to break down those barriers
Lisa says she could see from the very beginning how well the learning rep role complemented her existing job.
“I’m responsible for making sure that our branch staff get the training and development they need,” says Lisa. “And for helping them to access that training so, being a learning rep goes hand in hand with that.
“I trained to become a nurse in the 1980s and it was a very different landscape then – my qualifying exam was multiple choice. I know it can feel like a chore to keep yourself up to date with training but I want to break down those barriers – whether that’s time, confidence or knowing where to go – I want to signpost people to the right place and give them the tools to carry on learning and developing.”
Putting learning and development on the agenda
Although Arianne, Lisa and Berni still have one training module left to complete before they become fully-fledged learning reps, they’re already starting to see positive changes.
There is now a seat for a learning rep on the company’s learning and development committee and regular calls have been scheduled between the learning reps and the chief nurse.
“In October, we’ll be starting to put together a two-year plan,” says Berni. “It will outline what we want learning reps to achieve and how they will work together with the rest of the organisation.
“Interserve Healthcare has a national clinical forum twice a year. We’ll be presenting at the next one in October to let everyone know about the learning rep role and to ask them what they think is needed in terms of learning and development, support etc. – this will help to guide our priorities.”
I found it so interesting and thought, what can I take away from this and feed back to our staff?
Since taking on the learning rep role, all three have also become more involved in their local RCN branches.
“I recently attended the Eastern region learning and education network meeting, which was brilliant,” says Arianne. “My background is in paediatric nursing and there was a talk about how we can help paediatric nurses to work outside their designated areas.
“I found it so interesting and thought, what can I take away from this and feed back to our staff? Now the two members of RCN staff who gave the talk are coming to our national clinical forum to talk more widely about professional accountability and boundaries.”
Lisa has had a similar experience: “I was speaking to a nurse in one of our regional branches who wanted to run an event about medication management and record keeping.
“Straightaway I said, ‘No problem, let me get on the phone to the local RCN branch’. She asked with surprise, ‘Can you do that?’ and I said ‘Yes, I’m a union rep!’ She said ‘that’s exciting’
“And do you know what? It is. The workshop has now gone from being a low key presentation to a fantastic workshop with the RCN coming in to deliver a talk and a roadshow. Because of the position I’m in now, I’ve been able to work alongside my colleague and help turn it into something bigger that will really benefit staff.”
Because of the position I’m in now, I’ve been able to help turn it into something bigger that will really benefit staff
As part of the induction to the learning rep role, Berni, who is based in Scotland, visited the RCN library in Edinburgh.
“I had no idea about all of the resources available to RCN members,” says Berni. “It’s fantastic that members in Scotland can go to the library in Edinburgh and I’ll definitely be spreading the word, as well as using the resources to help me plan my own training events.
“I’ve already used the library resources to access articles for a talk I’m giving on menopause and the workplace at our National Clinical Forum. The library staff have been so helpful in sending me links to relevant websites and information leaflets too.
We want to upskill our staff so they get the most out of their role and, inevitably, better training and support leads to better patient care
“And it’s not just the educational resources; I don’t think people know about the other support the RCN offers – counselling, financial advice etc. I think a lot of our HCAs don’t even realise they can become a member.
“Part of our role as learning reps in Interserve Healthcare is to let people know about the benefits of joining the RCN. It’s not just a union and it’s not just for nurses.
“We want to upskill all of our staff, particularly HCAs, so they get the most out of their role in terms of job satisfaction, and, inevitably, better training and support leads to better patient care.”
A personal impact
“The thing that’s struck me most is the impact taking on this role has had on me personally,” says Arianne. “I’ve been a nurse for more than 20 years and I joined the RCN as a student nurse.
“I just didn’t realise all of the things that were available to me as a member. It’s so easy to get bogged down with large workloads, mundane tasks or day-to-day work – especially when you’re not caring for patients face-to-face.
“You just get on with it and do your job. Sometimes you can forget why you became a nurse in the first place. Taking on a more active role has re-ignited that for me. It’s given me a real desire to develop myself.
Sometimes you can forget why you became a nurse in the first place. Taking on a more active role has re-ignited that for me
“In the independent sector, study days and other resources don’t always seem readily available but becoming a learning rep has made me realise there is so much available through the RCN and I can’t wait to share that with all of my colleagues.”
Lisa feels the same. “It’s definitely helped me become more focused on my own learning,” says Lisa. “And I feel a renewed excitement about my job role too. I work from home 80% of the time and some of my time is spent researching learning and development programmes for staff.
“I can spend, and admittedly sometimes waste, hours online trying to find the right thing. The information and support I now have access to as a learning rep will help me to cut this down significantly and I’ll be able to find the gritty stuff that will really benefit our staff. Plus I think the fact that I can put RCN learning rep on my CV is amazing.”
Learning reps play an important part in the RCN.
“What’s great about this role is that it’s not about the member being in crisis,” says Gary Kirwan, RCN National Officer who signed the learning agreement on behalf of the RCN. “It’s about the RCN being an active trade union in the workplace with learning reps proactively engaging members and responding to their learning needs.
“The role is enshrined in the UK’s Employment Act 2002 which gives learning reps a statutory right to time off work so they can carry out their duties.”
If you’re interested in becoming a learning rep visit the role of RCN learning reps.