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Case study: Training advisor - CAB

Julie Stuart, Training Adviser, Citizens Advice Scotland

'The people who work within the CAB movement are generally a joy to have as colleagues because they really want to help others.'

My job

'The main purpose of my job is to enable CABs in Scotland to provide training opportunities appropriate for the needs of the individual in carrying out their specific job role. The main role is the volunteer advice worker - the organisation recruits volunteers from a vast range of backgrounds with differing skills and experience on joining. There is a high turnover of these volunteers and bureaux therefore we are in a constant round of recruitment, training, achievement of competence, followed by leaving parties!'

'I can't help with the latter but my role is vital in ensuring that the members of the public going into a bureau on Shetland receives the same quality of service as in city centre Edinburgh.'

My job involves:

  • Trawling for information about changes before they happen so that no one is ever taught anything, which is out of date
  • Training workers: two main courses; a 'Training for Trainers' course and the other 'Representation Skills' for workers willing to help clients at Employment Tribunals

'I do love the training, particularly the training for trainers because I genuinely can see where I make a difference, not only to the levels of skill but also to confidence levels.'

The challenges

'The most challenging aspect is responding to the new legislation pouring out of both Westminster and Scottish Parliament. To translate the new rules into the likely effects on clients' lives and then work out how advisers should best approach giving advice on those effects is quite a job.'

'In addition, as ever with the voluntary sector, another difficult aspect of work is the lack of resources - we need more staff to carry out the work and to support them too! Lack of support will have knock-on effects on the quality of service provided.'

My background

  • Graduated from university with a law degree
  • Volunteer Advice worker - Manchester CAB
  • Adviser/Representative, London Law Centre (temporary, paid position)
  • Adviser/Representative, local advice agency, Manchester (permanent position) I got involved in supporting and training volunteer advisers
  • Housing Adviser, Local Authority
  • Took time off to go travelling
  • Office temping
  • Training Adviser Citizens Advice Scotland

'I first worked in the voluntary sector 18 years ago, coming straight from university. I left university with a law degree but no experience and no prospect of a grant to take my studies further. I took up the position of a volunteer Advice Worker with a Manchester CAB. I moved in and out of the sector for the next few years but ended up back at CAB, this time in Scotland'

'Although my job in the public sector was much better paid, I hated it! The attitude from the public was totally different - I was seen suddenly as someone who was a gatekeeper to prevent access to other services (i.e. Council Housing) rather than someone who was offering independent advice. The best bit was giving training to voluntary groups on housing issues.'

'I have to say to date I feel the flow of my career has been pretty logical - from volunteer to paid worker to trainer.'

Skills required

'I have no formal qualifications in either the legal aspects of CAB or in training. I need communication skills, both spoken, for conducting courses, and written, for supplying bureau with written materials to use with their workers. The ability to understand complex information and translate it into practical, plain English is vital - often I am writing materials based on legislation, which is utterly incomprehensible! IT use is increasingly important - both in terms of use of the internet for research and using a range of software to produce materials, reports, training aids and financial statements.'

Final say

'Working in the voluntary sector can be a joy you can feel you are really making a difference. It can also be frustrating due to lack of resources but, for all that, I don't think I could get job satisfaction in the same way in the private or statutory sector because I want to feel I make a valuable and valued contribution to the community.'

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