Ash Hayden is proof of how new and innovative work-based HE programmes can support working adults in gaining university level qualifications and advancing their careers.
Despite leaving school with just one A-C grade GCSE, Ash is now pursuing a highly successful career in logistics and the 33-year-old is currently Operations Manager at Boots, with 400 staff and a multi-million pound budget. He owes his success to the support of his employers and his successful completion of a Foundation degree (FdA) in Logistics and Supply Chain Management.
With no careers advice and no interest in personal development he left school with the impression that there were no jobs that would suit him. It was suggested that he apply for a job as a bricklayer, which he did, and hated it. He moved into the manufacturing sector but was made redundant twice.
Then one small manufacturing employer saw potential in him and his study of a part-time ILM qualification, involving a work- based project. He went on to complete an NVQ3 in Computer Applications, at his own cost and in his own time. By now he was beginning to see the importance of work-based and work- related learning if he was to get on and secure better jobs and at this point he set his sights on a career in logistics.
An internet search helped him secure a post as a supervisor with Boots in Nottingham. The post was a grade lower than his previous post, but he saw the potential for developing a career.
Boots makes considerable investment in training and development for employees, and typically supports management progression through their BABM scheme, where they pay the university fees of participants taking a BA (Hons) in Business Management and provide placement and mentoring support. Ash was too old to join the scheme when he started at Boots and is unusual in choosing and following a work-based route to becoming a graduate and manager, although he now mentors BABM students.
When Ash became aware of a new part-time Foundation degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, being offered by Chesterfield College (validated by Leeds Metropolitan University), his Manager agreed to support him and he became one of the first cohort of learners to complete the two-year Foundation degree n 2007. He has since completed his Honours degree which took a further two years. Both Foundation and Honours degree were offered at the college and involved the same tutors. Boots funded his degree and provided time off for studying, plus support from staff and a context for work-based assignments and projects, even though the Foundation degree is not a recognised graduate routes within Boots as a whole. Another employee is currently following the same pathway.
Ash knew nothing of Foundation degrees before embarking on the programme but found learning as an adult and at work easier and more enjoyable than learning in school. He felt well- prepared for it after receiving information from the college and a detailed discussion of what would be involved and how he would be supported by college staff.
Ash comments: "The Fd was brilliant – everything linked to Boots. The course leader and tutors have all had careers in manufacturing, and have a good understanding of current practice. I understand the whole business and the supply chain and has had the opportunity to challenge why things are set up in the way that they are. It's great how studying is totally linked to work and combines both theoretical and practical aspects of logistics and supply chain."
"Like Ash, they are already outside traditional routes into HE and 'too old' to follow these routes to successful careers by the time they are in their late twenties. At Chesterfield, as at other colleges, staff have taken the opportunities presented by Foundation degrees to create innovative paths for part-timers, leading from the workplace into HE."
Ash's course included just eight one- and two-day workshops in college meaning he didn't have to negotiate lengthy periods of study leave, a key plus point for his employer; other study was undertaken through weekly online activity. Research, assignments and projects in the workplace, supported by his manager, were also part of the course. Ash estimates that in addition he had to do a further 10 hours per week studying at home, which, in addition to working 50-60 hours in a demanding job, made for a difficult work-life balance.
"This kind of study requires commitment and self- discipline from students. They need to keep up with weekly reading, taking part in online discussion and completing assessed work, almost entirely in their own time. The programme requires students to produce work to the same academic standard as other undergraduates," Bill adds.
"While students are able to draw on their own experience and build on their existing strengths in the workplace, course concepts encourage students to challenge current practice and suggest improvements, going beyond many models of work-based learning. That Ash now acts as a mentor to students on same graduate training scheme he was earlier ruled out from reflects how he has grown during his time on the course. It also shows the potential for part-time students on innovative routes to make a real difference in the workplace."
Ash believes the hard work and upheaval has all been worth it. "There is no doubt that I have changed enormously as a person over this period of time and the experience has had an impact on my whole life. I am convinced of the benefits of taking this route. I have Level 6 qualifications, letters after my name and my salary has doubled; I also have an enormous sense of achievement and am very grateful to Boots for investing in me."
The benefits for Boots are that they have a loyal employee hoping to progress his career within the company. Ash can contribute much more to his work as a result of his new skills and knowledge and has recently led a large strategic project.
"One of the key turning points for me was the managing change module which enabled me to roll out the local Boots pharmacy project, involving the integration of the Alliance Unichem and Boots supply and biggest ever store conversion in the company's history. I am pleased it was a huge success and exceeded all expectations in budget and timelines. We have converted 1,000 stores in eighteen months, which is not bad going."
Other large companies including Wilkinson and the Co-Op have now followed suit in choosing the Foundation degree for their workforce. Bill comments: "Employers find this model attractive. Wilkinson, whose sophisticated distribution operations are centred in nearby Worksop, sends students on the course every year and others are starting to follow this lead. This is one of the reasons why the course has been the only logistics Foundation degree in the country to run throughout the last five years."
Ash is currently taking a break from studying to enjoy more time with his new partner and play the guitar. Reflecting on the last four years he concludes: "I don't see myself as an academic – I am a bit of an enigma - one of the people from the shop floor who has done well. I could only have done it from the workplace, I understand the context. Doing the Fd showed I was willing and able to learn. I've proved that to myself and the company. I now feel passionate about the value of staff development for myself and others. I hope to have a long career with Boots and to develop as a leader with them."