Serving up the right ingredients

What
do HR departments have to do to make foundation degrees work for the
organisation? Antony Adshead finds out how they are helping the Radisson
Edwardian hotels company to develop its staff

This
year will be a key year for the Government’s foundation degree project. It
announced funding late last year for another 10,000 places, almost doubling the
number of students from 2003.

The
foundation degree is aimed at helping fill an identified skills problem area of
technical staff. The Institute for Employment Research has estimated that the
number of associate professional and higher technician roles will grow faster
than most other areas by 2010.

To
meet this the current government devised the foundation degree – a two-year
course that aims to marry practical work-based skills with theoretical
knowledge. It is run by employers or groups of employers in concert with higher
and further educational institutions.

But
what are the benefits and risks for HR departments considering a foundation
degree for its workforce?

Hotels
company Radisson Edwardian is now two years into its hospitality management
foundation degree which it designed in conjunction with Thames Valley
University. The qualification is proving successful and popular according to
Kevin Ennis, people and performance director for the hotel group.

The
foundation degree is proving not only to be a good motivator for staff, but is
helping equip them with the skills necessary to move into management roles.

Ennis
says that at Radisson Edwardian the foundation degree is suitable for people
who have been in supervisory roles for a short time and want to move to
management positions.

“When
people come from frontline jobs they have skills such as waiting on tables, but
the skills needed for management are not absorbed on the frontline,” he says.
“As a result, in the past when we promoted these were difficult things to
teach, but the foundation degree helps to overcome that problem.

“We
find one of the benefits is better communication, as the foundation degree gives
a common language for the concepts involved in management and helps to define
what is expected in performance terms.”

While
the benefits are beginning to come for Radisson Edwardian, Ennis says that the
HR department has to be aware of the demands such a course places upon it.
While foundation degree courses are made to be flexible, the business still has
a job to do, and the way needs to be cleared to help those who study and those
who manage them.

“You
have to help those who are managing students on the foundation degree to have
the flexibility to cope with the demands of their study. But there also has to
be some mentoring of students. They need managers to help them out, to give
them some degree of flexibility to help them study,” says Ennis. “And there is
a financial overhead for us as we pay half of the student’s fees.”

The
HR department has to be committed – bad feeling can be the result if projects
of this type turn into broken promises. But Ennis says that such commitment
brings benefits to the business.

“Today,
when someone considers their employment options, they want to know that a
company will look after them – there’s a ‘what’s in it for me?’ factor,” says
Ennis. “University education was not an option for many of our people, but the
foundation degree is an extremely practical course of study and time management
is much easier than in a full degree. The foundation degree is a major benefit.”

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