Offering traineeships – what’s in it for the organisation?
Over the last 6 years, 48 individuals have benefitted from trainee placements as part of either the Dorset Wildlife Trust programme or, since 2014, via the Wildlife Skills programme which runs as a partnership between Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire Wildlife Trusts until 2017. All placements have been bursary funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Skills for the Future programme, which has been set up to provide individuals across the country with the skills to make a positive contribution to the heritage sector and to confidently seek employment in the sector.
Most placements have been one year in duration and had a focus on Monitoring and Survey, Volunteer and Community Engagement or Practical Conservation. Each of our trainees had a mentor and regular progress reviews throughout. The success rate for finding employment in the sector after completing a traineeship is over 95% and feedback from trainees has been excellent.
But what did the organisation get out of the experience? There can be an assumption that all benefits in the process are felt by the trainee only, and the costs borne by the organisation, with little or no benefit to them. However, when we carried out a review of the programme with our mentors, we found that they were overwhelmingly positive about having trainees and gave the following reasons.
When you put energetic, grateful people into an organisation with ‘can-do’ attitudes who just ooze enthusiasm, it has a very noticeable effect on the rest of the staff. It can act as a pretty good antidote to jaded thinking and cynicism!
There is no denying that an extra pair of hands when running a pond dipping day or an extra chainsaw operative when clearing birch is extremely welcome and trainee efforts really make a difference. In some cases, trainees have really taken the lead. For example one trainee pushed their organisation to gain a nationally recognised Quality Badge. Their mentor stated “we would not have got to this stage without our trainee pulling it all together”. This same trainee was further described by the mentor, “she really helped me with my workload, as she was a self-starter and a planner”.
Bringing new skills
Trainees bring with them a whole new set of skills, ideas and innovations to the organisation. For example, many of our trainees have been under 25 years of age, and therefore extremely adept in using social media to communicate. The organisations have benefitted from their expertise, as they have helped to promote the Trusts’ work via twitter, blogs and campaigns such as 30 Days Wild.
Job satisfaction and leadership opportunities
Staff appreciated the opportunity to develop their management skills and it was described as 'nice to get back to passing knowledge and experience on'. Trainees were described as ‘an asset to the team and a pleasure to work with’. Mentors who often had previously worked alone had enjoyed having some company!
Mentors were proud of how the trainees’ confidence had developed, and how the depth of trust in the relationships between them had grown. One was very proud when she watched her trainee teach a group on her own, especially when they had been nervous previously but then did it perfectly, and she experienced a ‘proud mum moment’ when her trainee secured a job.
Personal reflection and development
Looking after trainees meant that many mentors have reflected on their own communication styles, including asking questions of themselves such as 'how I can improve the way I communicate and support people within a limited amount of time', One mentor had found it illuminating when she found out that ‘I don’t communicate as clearly as I thought I do’, and another had realised that ‘sometimes I have to take a step back and let the trainee do something wrong first so they can learn from their mistakes’.
They had appreciated the opportunity for personal development in learning how to deal with different personality types and practicing patience. The experience has made one mentor 'feel more positive about future direction for myself', and another had identified personal gaps in their own wildlife knowledge and is now working to improve these.
Joint training opportunities have benefitted staff, for example a bespoke National Vegetation Classification course, was also attended at low cost by Trust staff. Staff have also attended in-house amphibians, reptiles and dragonfly training days.
Raising the profile of the organisation
The 48 former trainees act as ambassadors for the organisation as they progress into their careers. It is incredibly satisfying to walk into a partnership meeting and find that 1 or 2 of the people present are trainees from a few years back, and are successfully making a difference in the sector.
Achieving these benefits has required a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of the staff involved. Especially in the first few months, trainees require quite considerable one to one input, which can put pressure on mentors’ own workloads, but as mentors increased their own confidence, solutions were put in place to ease this. Having young or inexperienced people in an organisation can present some new challenges with regards to health and safety procedures, which have required careful thought and offering training such as personal effectiveness and time management has filled some gaps in the trainees’ skill base, which we hadn’t initially anticipated.
Although competition for HLF funds is always fierce, the support given by HLF in both the application process and during the project is excellent, without onerous administrative processes. The Wildlife Skills programme includes a full time project co-ordinator role, which has proved very valuable in co-ordinating training across the partnership. We have been fortunate in having this HLF funded bursary scheme, but believe it would still be possible to run a smaller, similar scheme without this luxury.
We will be advertising Wildlife Skills traineeships in spring 2016 for a 1st July start, and details will be available at www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife_skills. For more information about running a traineeship scheme, contact Rachel Janes, Wildlife Skills Project Co-ordinator at email@example.com, on 01305 264620 or follow us on twitter @wildlife_skills
Contacted January 2017 - believed to be correct