Things I wish I knew before I started as a learner rep
I have been working with ACT as their Learner Representative for just over a year now. When I learnt that I had got the job I was very excited and full of ideas of how I wanted things to work. A year on and I still have that same motivation and feel good feeling when I walk into work every day. Although it hasn’t been as easy as I would have hoped in the beginning. As it was the first job role of its kind it was always going to be hard because no one had ever done it before. Because of this I have written a small report on a few things that I wish I knew about this job role before I had started. Please note that none of this would have affected whether I took on the job in the first place. They are just barriers that I have had to overcome in the job role which I wish I knew I would have had to deal with.
- How much work it was going to take
Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was always going to involve work! However I wasn’t expecting as much work as I have done in the past year. My job involves me visiting 5 of ACT’s centres at least once a month to gather feedback off learners. After every visit I type up a professional report of all the feedback that the learners have given to me. This is to be shown to the decision makers. I then have to book in time and meet with the decision makers to get responses from the feedback that I have gathered. After getting a response I then visit the learners to tell them how their feedback is being dealt with (whether good or bad). This might not seem like a lot, but along with this I am the lead of the Learner Voice Wales every year along with arranging ACT’s Learner Award Ceremonies along with many other tasks. My job can get pretty overwhelming, but I still wouldn’t change it for the world.
- How much people depend on you
The learners are always going to depend on me as it is part of my job role. But I was never prepared for how much the staff would rely on me. Tutors are always asking me to sit with their groups and get that all important feedback. This may be because learners are unwilling to give tutors any areas for improvement due to constantly being in direct line with them. I provide a neutral view and learners are able to trust me with the feedback that they give me. When the feedback is gathered most of the staff are always willing to sit with me and discuss it. I even have staff pushing to have meetings with me! Just seeing positive reactions from staff relating to my job role, makes me realise how important this job role actually is.
- It’s ok to make changes
Sometimes, when you or the company has a specific structure in place you may be a bit too worried to change it because it is working fine as it is. If you have an idea to make structures work better and smoother then don’t be afraid to share your idea with a manager or fellow member of staff. You may want to trail a new way of doing something first, and if it doesn’t work you can always revert back to the original way. Or if you realise that this new plan works even better you may have just made things easier for other members of staff in the organisation. Remember that there is no such thing as a bad idea.
- Closing the loop is valuable
I always said from the day I started the job that closing the loop was going to be my main aim. This was only after discussing it with my manager. Before this discussion I had no idea why you had to close the loop and why it is so important. I quickly learnt why! Gathering feedback off a learner is one thing, but the learner is always going to be wondering what you have done about it. It is better to put their mind at ease as quickly as you possibly can so that they are not left wondering about it for a long time. Even if it is bad news about the feedback, the learner will always appreciate you taking the time out to close the loop.
- It is important to keep a positive relationship
Positives relationships are vital across the organisation. If learners develop a trust with you then they will always be more willing to go to your feedback sessions and provide you feedback. Not only this, but they will also not be afraid to speak to you about anything when passing them in a corridor.
Having a learners trust is vital, but keeping a positive relationship with your fellow colleagues is just as important. These are the people that can help and give you guidance if you are ever in need. They also allow you to borrow their learners for a certain length of time. Some members of staff are also having influence over the decisions that are made about their centre or department.
- You’re just as important as the decision makers
As I stated above, I talk to decision makers in my company regularly to get responses from them to the feedback that I gathered from their learners. A lot of the time, me and the decision maker can disagree on certain types of ideas that the learners have. When I first started the job I was too afraid to say how I felt if one of them was to disagree to a change that I felt would be beneficial. I have changed my attitude and matured a lot since starting the job and I’m no longer afraid to try and state my point. I understand that the decision maker has the final say but I do my best to make sure I show them mine and the learners side of the view.
- Some things you just can’t change
As Learner Rep, you are always going to push for the decision makers to make the changes you feel appropriate. At times you will be successful, but there are some things that you just cannot change. For example, learners always tell me that they feel that they’re not paid enough. Due to this being a Welsh Government restriction it is not in the hands of our decision makers to change this. Learners will need to be made aware straight away what we can’t do; this saves you and the learners a lot of time.
- There is lots of support available
As a Learner Rep, you will never be on your own. At ACT I have received help from every direction. No matter what the issue, there is always someone on hand to give me guidance or to point me in the right direction. No problem is ever too big or small for them.
Even if you don’t find your training provider/college very helpful, the support from the NUS is out of this world! Any jobs that are set to me by ACT that I feel may be too big for me; I would always turn to the NUS who have given me great guidance on everything. They have also sent me to various places across the UK to gain experience and learn off other people.
- Learners are different to what you expect
Everybody has their own perception of a typical learner at ACT; it’s not a bad thing! I know that I did. But one thing that I have learnt in my year at the job is that learners are not the same. You may have one or two who are the same as you expected, but there are always learners that stick out and are inspiring, you will truly find this when speaking to a group. These are the learners that make you realise how worthwhile the job that you do is.
- Theres always going to be barriers
Just like any other, this job contains barriers. But it is how you overcome these barriers that makes you the person you are and also gives you the experience if these barriers ever pop up again. From my experience I have dealt with learners who have no interest in taking part in my sessions but to only disrupt them and also staff who want to be awkward and not co operate in the manner that they are expected to. You may also have to cancel certain jobs due to being overloaded with work, but this comes naturally and jobs can always be re arranged.
I hope none of these points have worried you. These points are just to make you aware of situations that I was never made aware of purely because it was such a new job role. I can safely say that for every negative there will be a few more positives. I love my job and I find it very rewarding being able to make changes to make our learners happy whilst playing a vital part in helping them achieve their goals.
Chris Harris ACT Learner Rep and NSoA Leadership Team