Regional Management : North West Regional College
Key PESTLE factors within the case study
Political and Economic factors are the main PESTLE factors for this case study. Politically government bodies wanted a common MIS system that would provide records on which future college funding could be based. To achieve this, the government provided the development with funding and directed the roll-out of the new system. Economic factors also therefore came from this political back drop as the government were heavily involved in the distribution of funding.
There was also a subtext to this relating to social factors; At North West Regional College funding is weighted depending on a number of social factors related to learners. These weightings are designed to address social needs and include factors such as “travel to work area and disabilities". The new MIS system thus offers a means of tracking a college’s proportion of students in the different categories and automatically calculating the resultant government funding allocation. Social, political and economic factors were therefore intertwined.
Finally, the MIS development was related to the government strategy of college merger in Northern Ireland to ensure more economic and business focussed provision. The respondent believes that while this may have been extremely difficult to achieve in the past, the new political stability in Northern Ireland probably made it easier for the colleges to merge and work together.
How the working practice evolution was affected
The main mediators at this college were external – the funding councils and the government drove the changes. The senior management teams were also involved. The staff and the students did not perhaps play a major role in driving the change although it is of course the intention that they will benefit in the fullness of time. The benefits of the MIS systems have yet to be fully felt by staff and students however some work has been done to rectify this; From September 2009, all the colleges will be rolling out an EISLA (Electronic Individual Student Learning agreement) and this uses data from the MIS system and provides well presented sets of information tailored to suit. This will therefore see the MIS system having a direct impact on students.
Change occurred at the roles and responsibilities level in the first instance within this case study and this in turn led to working practices being changed and individuals finally being affected.
5 years in the future
The drivers in 5 years time to some extent will be similar for West Regional College but the specific social factors will change massively according to the respondent. There will be a move towards a student centred approach focussing on how students can be helped to achieve their learning aims and objectives. Thus, student experience and support will be a key element. Legal factors will also probably become more prevalent. Equality and learner diversity will become very important and this will need to be formalised. The government will continue to play a role in identifying varying social and economic targets and ensuring through the MIS information that they are met.
The interviewee believes the mediators will change however because of this shift in trend as individuals start to take more responsibility for their own contribution to learner support and their own personal development. There will be more structure, planning and reporting on outcomes associated with the MIS system and this could begin to change the approach to a lot of tasks and individual approaches.
New roles and responsibilities are developing, driven by social drivers. Colleges in Northern Ireland have become larger (due to recent mergers) and it is believed that this will in time afford more specialisation of roles. For example, there is a new role specifically responsible for child and vulnerable adult protection at West Regional College, in the past this would have been one of many responsibilities within one role. Roles which specialise in student finance have also emerged. These changes also illustrate a move from reactive to proactive support in FE in Northern Ireland, driven by the political and cultural environment.
It could be said that a unique feature of West Regional College is that it has survived a merger that completely overhauled its processes and working practices and put great pressure on individual members of staff to adapt. It has now been 2 years since the merger process and West Regional College is entering a period of consolidation. This merger process has equipped the college and its staff with extensive experience in managing and coping with restructuring and change in general. The restructuring was a tremendous challenge for the staff and in effect they had to merge two sets of working practices into one. In some cases this required a complete overhaul of current practices and staff had to “go back to the drawing board”. It has been a difficult time for all involved but the respondent believes that the merger is now proving to be successful and as a result there is a greater degree of collaboration between course teams and campuses and stronger personal relationships being forged between staff from different locations.
What methods (formal or informal) do individuals in your case study or the wider institution employ when identifying, analysing and reporting these potential change drivers or influences?
At West Regional and its associated colleges the methods are quite formal – again largely because of the merger and government involvement. The government funded external consultants to analyse organisational structures just before the merger and they came up with a proposal of a new structure. Parts of this proposal were adopted and although the consultant’s recommendations were not fully adopted, elements of the recommended structure and advice on required staff positions were taken on. The “roles” themselves then evolved and developed from this. There was a transitional period where “written” roles changed after people were appointed. It had been difficult to envisage exactly what roles would look like and what working practices would be involved until staff were actually in post. Therefore for the West Regional College case study and the “merger” taking place with other colleges the methods were both formal and informal. When the new director was appointed he put some formal plans in place with college projections and business plans and these then evolved more informally as other staff were appointed and began to put those plans into action. As more senior roles were filled it became easier for associated roles and working practices to be considered and developed as appropriate and these new roles could then be formalised more effectively.
There are some good examples of more formal approaches within the college as a whole however; For example Lecturing roles in Northern Ireland have recently been re-defined as part of a pay award and this was carried out at a high level by representatives of the college directors and the trade unions. This will have a very big impact on staff contracts and roles in this area in the future and the respondent believes this role will become more formalised as a result.
What are the strengths/weaknesses of these methods?
The interviewee believes that this mixture of formal and informal was the only way to approach the merger in West Regional College as it would have proved extremely difficult to formalise roles and responsibilities from the outset. He believes there was a requirement for a more organic informal period at the beginning to allow things to develop before more formal approaches could be put in place.
What methods/ initiatives would benefit your institution’s future strategic planning surrounding these factors?
Re-visiting any plans and approaches is very important; West Regional College has undergone an extensive period of re-structuring and the interviewee believes it is now extremely important that the college continues to monitor the new structure and ensure that it remains fit for purpose. Reviewing the new infrastructure in a formal way is therefore crucial going forward.
If you were to interview for a member of staff to fit within your immediate environment and indeed the wider institution, what key skills would you look for?
Some skills are generic e.g. project management, team working. The interviewee- who occupies a middle management post – believes that “transferrable” skills are extremely important at his level; having generic skills e.g. project planning and people management allows staff at this level to move to different roles within middle management with very similar duties and working practices.
Formal qualifications are perhaps less important with softer skills coming more to the forefront for all staff, however the interviewee believes there needs to be a link between personal development and formal appraisal. This ensures that staff get the opportunity to gain appropriate skills whether formal or more informal e.g. mentoring and that these skills are aligned to the strategic objectives of the institution.
How could the continued development of these skills in both new and existing staff be best supported?
A concrete appraisal system that considers both new and existing staff is extremely important; At West Regional College senior and middle managers were recently asked to fill in an individual skills audit and these were used to develop a programme of tailored support going forward. The interviewee believes this was an excellent approach to ensuring existing staff are kept in the loop. This request for an audit actually came from government.
West Regional College has a lot of staff development initiatives for new staff but it could perhaps benefit from more formal appraisals to help staff to up skill and to continue their development plan throughout their time at the college.