Archive for March, 2012

Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, MindLeaders services and HR director, who’s been yammering and rather likes it.

Oh no, I hear you say, not another social network! Well, in fact Yammer has been around for nearly four years and whilst its user base may be tiny (4 million), compared with the big boys, its growth has trebled in the last three years.  The reason you may not have heard about Yammer is that it is a private as opposed to public networking site.  Membership is open only to the employees of an individual company and as such, its value proposition is very different to the public networks.

At MindLeaders we are constantly searching for new ways to engage our people as we recognise the strong relationship between engaged employees and  satisfied customers. As such, we became one of the 200,000 companies in 16 countries to open a Yammer network several months ago. It is only within the last few weeks that has it started to catch on and our people began to understand  how they could use the platform to share information, communicate, collaborate and learn. We have deliberately kept Yammer low key – no big launch event, no dictates to join and contribute. Instead, we have let the network spread by word of mouth. We want it to become part of our culture, not an additional task on the To Do list.

To date, we have been delighted with the results. Nearly 70% of our people have joined our Yammer network in the last six weeks. We expect  the vast majority of our company to be on board by the end of the month and usage is rising daily.  Here is one small example of how Yammer is adding value. One of our managers wanted to know about the “70:20:10 Framework for learning”. She posted the question on Yammer and within an hour answers had come back from different corners of our global business. Problem solved. And of course, it also meant that everyone else on the network gained the information –  a genuine example of Social Learning in action.

We also use Yammer to share success stories,  post hints and tips and as a short-term knowledge storage site. We can of course also discuss things on Yammer which we wouldn’t necessarily want to share with our competitors. Finally , the rate of information flow has increased dramatically. Information which previously took time to filter out through the organisation (and occasionally did not arrive at all), is now available immediately to everyone.

Not surprisingly, Yammer is particularly popular with our field-based people who now don’t feel that they are working on their own and as such are brought  much closer to the heart of the  business.  Of course, Yammer won’t replace emails when communicating on a one-to-one basis but we do expect it to reduce the overall levels of email traffic. For example, have you ever sent out an email to a group of 10 people asking for  input and feedback and got 10 different replies thereby starting 10 different threads? That’s no longer necessary with Yammer.

It’s still very early days and we are still learning how to gain maximum benefit from the network. However, we think we may have found a powerful collaboration tool and certainly at the moment we are very much “Enamoured with Yammer.”


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Today Roger Francis, MindLeaders director HR & services, comments on a recent speech by the new Ofsted chief inspector highlighting how the UK is falling behind in literacy standards. 

The UK literacy crisis is back in the headlines following a recent speech by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the new Ofsted chief inspector.  Whilst overall literacy levels have improved slightly over the last 20 years,  every year 100,000 children are failing to achieve the expected standard by the time they  leave primary school and over 5 million adults lack the necessary literacy skills to enable them to cope satisfactorily with every day life.

Moreover, other countries are making significant improvements and as a result, the UK has dropped from 7th to 23rd in the world literacy rankings. Countries such as Estonia, Poland and China are now outperforming the UK.

As Sir Michael says “Too many young adults lack the functional skills to make their way in the modern world. They are more likely to be unemployed, unwell, in prison, or supported by the state.”

His concerns were echoed by Neil Carberry, CBI director for Employment and Skills policy, who in his response to the speech said that “Businesses will welcome the fact that Sir Michael Wilshaw has shone a light on worryingly low literacy levels. We need to ensure functional literacy skills are taught more effectively.”

It is both timely and appropriate that both Sir Michael and Neil Carberry used the word “functional” to describe the skills that are required. We are now less than 5 months away from the mandatory introduction of Functional Skills into the Apprenticeship framework. At the same time, the government intends to switch funding for standalone basic skills programmes to Functional Skills.

The launch of Functional Skills has been a slow and at times tortuous process but for those of us who are genuinely concerned about the literacy and numeracy crises in the UK, its introduction  cannot come soon enough. By giving young people the opportunity not simply to improve their maths and English skills but to understand how those skills can be properly utilised in many different situations, I’m sure we will start to move up the world league tables. At the same time we’ll be providing young people with the opportunity to develop satisfying careers rather than remaining in dead-end jobs, and competing effectively on the global stage.

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Today Roger Francis, head of HR and services at MindLeaders, reports a marked change for the better in attitudes towards Functional Skills

I have recently been appointed by the Association of Employment and Training Providers (AELP) as their Functional Skills Champion. I was delighted to accept that role  but was looking forward with a certain degree of trepidation to chairing  the first meeting of a Functional Skills “Special Interest Group” (SIG) run jointly by AELP and LSIS (The Learning and Skills Improvement Service).

The meeting was the best attended SIG that the AELP had ever run. Sadly I fear that this was not due to my charismatic presence, but more to the high priority which Functional Skills now attracts amongst training providers.  With over 40 providers, Awarding Body representatives and people from the Skills Funding Agency in the room, I was anticipating a difficult few hours as the usual throng of “Doom and Gloom” merchants, those who believe that the introduction of Functional Skills will spell the end of the Apprenticeship programme, vied with each other to offer depressing forecasts of an impending collapse in completion rates and the end of workplace training as we know it.

It was therefore a happy surprise to discover that rather than having to stamp down on the prophets of doom, I was surrounded by people who were taking a very positive and realistic approach to the introduction of Functional Skills. Of course there were concerns expressed, particularly around the thorny area of funding, but there were also plenty of success stories from the growing number of providers who are switching to Functional Skills before the deadline on 31st August. Moreover, the Awarding Bodies indicated that pass rates were continuing to rise and that Private Training Providers were easily  outperforming colleges and schools. That fits well with our own experience as our first-time pass rates continue to exceed 90%.

So why is there still clearly a small band of training providers (sadly including some quite large companies) who continue to predict a disaster when Functional Skills becomes mandatory in a few months time?  I suspect that the key driver is fear of the unknown.  The discredited Key Skills qualifications have been easy and straightforward to deliver and have not required providers to escape from their comfort zones.  The thought of actually having to do something different and provide a more robust learner experience is simply proving to be a step too far for those providers who are wedded to the past.

Fortunately it would appear, certainly from my experience in my new “Champion” role, that these people no longer represent the majority of training providers.  Whilst MindLeaders have led the way in developing innovative and  exciting new approaches to Functional Skills, other providers are now starting to appreciate that they need to take a positive approach to the issue and start finding appropriate delivery solutions rather than yearning for the past. We are delighted that an increasing n umber of those providers are turning to us for support and we will continue to ensure that we lead the market in Functional Skills delivery.



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Today Roger Francis, HR and services director at MindLeaders, responds to the launch of a new charity to tackle the numeracy skills crisis in the UK.

A new charity has been launched today to tackle the numeracy crisis in the UK and champion improved Maths skills. The group, National Numeracy, seeks to support the millions of people who do not, according to the Government’s own figures, have sufficient skills to read bus or train timetables or understand their pay slips.  Almost half the working population fall into this category, having only primary school maths skills.

I have highlighted this crisis (and it is a crisis, not a problem) in previous posts and I am therefore delighted that it will now receive the focus and support which it deserves. National Numeracy point to figures which show a very clear link between poor numeracy skills and poor life outcomes such as prison, poverty and unemployment. Tackling this problem is not only essential if we are to ensure that the UK workforce has the skills which are necessary to enable us to compete effectively in the global market, but also to prevent the creation of a blighted pool of unemployable people whose life prospects are severely limited.

So what needs to happen?  I believe that the creation of National Numeracy is a major first step. Twenty years ago the National Literacy Trust was established, and whilst literacy levels are still a cause for concern, there have been significant improvements during that time, so focusing on an issue in this way has clear benefits.

Secondly, we need to change the attitude towards maths. A YouGov survey carried out on behalf of National Numeracy, found that many people felt it was acceptable to say they were no good at maths. In fact it had almost become a badge of honour. We have to change that culture and promote the benefits of improved numeracy skills

Finally we have to recognise that numeracy is a “life skill”. It’s not simply about being able to add up or understand fractions, it’s about having the confidence and ability to transfer those skills and use them to improve the quality of everyday lives.

With this in mind, the launch yesterday of the new MindLeaders Functional Skills solution for Maths and English could not have been more timely.  Functional Skills are designed to address those very issues of confidence and knowledge transfer and as such, we believe they will play a significant role in the development of improved skills.  The MindLeaders vision is to “Change Lives Through Learning” and Functional Skills is designed to do just that. We are delighted and very proud to be playing a part in helping to address this crisis.

So National Numeracy deserves the unqualified support of everyone working in  the field of adult numeracy. Let’s hope that within the next decade, we can see real progress in this hugely important area.




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Today’s post comes courtesy of Roger Francis, MindLeaders HR and services director

Today is an important day for MindLeaders as it marks the release of our new Functional Skills software. Our production team have done a great job in getting the product out ahead of schedule and over the next few weeks, we will be showcasing our Functional Skills solution to potential clients around the UK.

Functional Skills represents a landmark for Mindleaders because for the first time, we have taken our technological approach to learning another step forward  by embedding our software within an ePortfolio. Whilst we have been great advocates of blended learning and have delivered nearly 5000 successful Skills for Life outcomes through a combination of software for underpinning knowledge and Learning Support Managers (LSMs) to provide ongoing support and coaching, the addition of an e-portfolio into this blended mix opens up many new learning opportunities.

For example, distance learning now becomes a reality. Learners don’t have to wait to see their LSM until they are next on site, they can communicate using the e-portfolio and can receive almost instant feedback on their work.  We can also link learners to additional resource material either on the Web or filed within the ePortfolio itself thereby providing the learner with a richer experience and more comprehensive support.  Finally, ePortfolios open up all sorts of future possibilities. We can build in social platforms which will enable learners to collaborate and learn from each other.  Stuck on a problem? Simply tap into your social network and ask your friends for advice.

ePortfolios have of course been around for a number of years and are increasingly used to  log observations and other assessment material for NVQs and Apprenticeships.  However, to date, no-one has adapted this powerful tool to address the complex requirements of Functional Skills training.

We are proud to have led the way in developing a successful delivery solution for Functional Skills. From 1 September, Functional Skills will become the standard workplace Maths and English qualification both for Apprenticeships and as a standalone qualification. We hope and expect that ePortfolios will play a major role in helping people to acquire those qualifications and effecting the major improvement in literacy and numeracy skills which the UK desperately requires.

Read more about U-skills for Functional Skills here, and to arrange a free demonstration contact workbasedlearning@mindleaders.com

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