Like many young mothers Kim decided to take a part-time job when her son reached thirteen in order to increase the family income and add some interest to her life. Before marrying and starting a family, Kim had worked as a sewing machinist, a job that many young women who left school without qualifications were able to get in Tyneside’s thriving clothing manufacturing sector during the nineteen seventies.
By the nineties, things were different; the clothing sector had been decimated by cheaper oversees imports but this gave Kim the opportunity to make a fresh start. She applied in 1994 for a part-time home help post with Gateshead Council and has worked there ever since.
“When I first started with the Council we did a lot of training, from induction courses to health and safely and lifting and handing training to help us do our job well. At that time our job included mainly shopping, collecting pensions and helping them with their housework. However all of that changed when the Council decided to strengthen the services it offered. All of a sudden we found ourselves with a much greater range of duties and responsibilities, the one that was probably the greatest challenge was administering and supervising medicines for our clients.”
To reflect this change of duties, the Domiciliary Care management team at the Council decided to implement an NVQ Framework, which presented a challenge to many of its staff:
“I never took qualifications at school and never really thought I was capable of getting them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved school actually, till my last year; that’s when I discovered boys! When I was fifteen I just stopped going because I was bored, because all we seemed to be doing was revising the stuff we’d already learnt for the upcoming exams. So I left and got my job as a trainee sewing machinist and never thought again about qualifications. ”
Even though Kim felt confident about her English, a subject she’s loved at school and comfortable enough about maths, she recognized that she would need to brush up her maths not just to help her gain her NVQ but because of how the job had become more complex, particularly as she had been promoted to be a senior domiciliary care worker after seven year with the Council. This role placed even greater emphasis on both her communication and maths skills as she was called upon to write reports, take an active part in meetings, calculate overtime payments and handle timesheets.
Proudly wearing her NVQ badge, Kim recalls:
“ I wear this badge every day, I’m sorry, I worked hard for it and I never thought I would get qualifications at my age. I bet my old headmaster was spinning in his grave, saying ‘Why did you not do it at school? The thing is, I loved it, it really gave me a passion for learning and I’ve never stopped since I first got involved.”
For Kim, the real revelation came when she was persuaded to take the European Computer Driving Licence:
“It was Mary our learning rep who persuaded me to do the ECDL. She’s really encouraging and knows what we are capable of, maybe more than we do ourselves, so staff do things they never dreamed they’d be doing. My partner had bought a computer and I went with him to an evening class to keep him company and got a real taste for it so she got me onto the ECDL Level 1 and I’ve since completed Level 2 and 3.
The thing is, it’s helped me so much with all of my training since. The Council give us access to loads of distance learning opportunities for our job, things like modules on End of Life care, Mental health and Equality and Diversity awareness, and I’ve been able to take advantage of what the Council offers us because of these skills.”
Now 51, Kim has recently been diagnosed to be suffering from cervical spondylosis, and her recent learning journey and achievements have provided her with an unexpected bonus. She is aware that she is unlikely to be able to continue in her present post as, even though she supervises other care workers, she still finds the work physically demanding. The domiciliary care managers in the Council are, of course concerned not to loose her knowledge and supervisory skills.
“ I am hopeful that I am going to be re-deployed in the coming months because the managers can see that they can harness knowledge about care, my IT skills and my increased confidence in using English and maths by moving me into an admin post within the Council; something that would never happened if I hadn’t taken those first steps back into learning.”