NHS Tayside learning survey

25 Mar

In the last quarter of 2010, the NHS Tayside Lifelong Learning Group conducted a survey asking staff about their learning needs. The survey was distributed universally by email, and somewhat unevenly in hard copy. The survey is a practical exercise to determine what staff are interested in learning, and where they are physically based, so that lifelong learning courses can be organised for them. Courses are organised through the Lifelong Learning Group, which is made of the representatives of the NHS and the unions and professional organisations, including Unite, Unison and the RCN.

This is the second time this survey has been run. There were 1,258 responses to the survey, which is close to the response of 1,341 achieved when the survey was run in 2008. This represents just under 10% of staff employed by NHS Tayside, and it is interesting that this response rate has been consistent. The survey run in 2010 did not ask exactly the same questions as 2008, as the decision was made to ask more detailed questions that would provide the practical information necessary to organise appropriate learning.

Nonetheless, there is enough overlap to be able to compare responses to this survey with the previous one. Once again, ancillary staff – those who would benefit most from learning – are under represented. However, it should be noted that many who ticked the “other” box indicated that they were domestic or other ancillary workers, so the response is somewhat better than it first appears.


We are making slow progress in raising awareness. In 2008, 73% of respondents had never heard of Union Learning Reps. This figure is now down to 60%, which is an improvement, but still not an ideal situation. Also encouraging is the fact that 46% of people had heard of the Group.

Learning needs

Questions about learning needs were asked in considerably more detail than in the previous survey. This was done in order to drill down and quantify the learning need more specifically so that learning opportunities could be organised. One of the criticisms of the previous survey was that it was not sufficiently detailed to be able to organise courses for people.

Languages and communications

There is a very high demand for Communications, Report Writing and Public Speaking and Presentations courses. This is encouraging as these courses are relatively easy to organise through existing funding streams. Under “other”, a number of participants indicated that they would like to learn British Sign Language. The high level of demand for this course suggests it should have been an option on the survey. Other requests included Gaelic, Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Urdu, short hand and Portuguese.

Maths and numbers

Clearly the biggest demand here is for a Pensions course.

IT and Computers

There is still demand for basic IT, but there is a much greater demand for advanced courses, including a surprising number for web design. This may be a result of the work done by the Group to deliver basic IT over the past two years. Over 100 respondents gave detailed responses. For the most part, this was to request specific modules – Excel and database software being especially popular. Other requests included Photoshop, CSS, project management software, digital story telling and using video, ASP.Net, Java, building and fixing PCs, Cisco networking, Red Hat Linux and Microsoft Certified Training. Some responses were slightly concerning, such as the following:

“Anything IT related as I am supposed to be one of the IT support at our surgery” – Female admin worker, Dundee

Others showed a considered response to the role of IT in the workplace:

“Myself and colleagues would like to create a web page for our project, to allow a wide range of people to access our information.”- Female allied health professional, Perth “I would be interested in gaining skills such as web design, software development etc. that may allow me to consider a career move/promotion if the opportunity came up within my department.” – Female admin worker, Dundee

Trade union courses

There was a fairly high demand for trade union courses, including for Union Learning Rep training, which will need to be followed up by the group.

Further and Higher Education and Vocational training

There was a high level of interest in this category, including more than 200 people wanting to do post-graduate degrees. Open University courses were also a popular option, and we will make our contacts in the OU aware of the demand at NHS Tayside. However, what is striking is that 282 people – 46% of respondents – indicated that they would like work related qualifications. 155 people left detailed commentary about their work related learning needs. This needs to be analysed carefully by the organisation to see how it maps into existing training provision.

95% of participants indicated that they had a computer with Internet access at home. However, it should be noted that this reflects that fact that the primary distribution method was by email. 75% of respondents said that Dundee was a suitable training venue, with about 30% each indicating that Perth or Angus were suitable. A small percentage ticked the “other” option – for this group, Fife was the most popular venue. 126 respondents indicated they would like further information on becoming a learning rep. This information will have to be disaggregated by union, and contact made by the relevant organisation.

Why do you want to learn?


The results of this question are almost exactly the same as they were in the previous survey.


There is a clear bias in the survey to staff who already have relatively high skills levels. This is demonstrated by the high response from Allied Health Professionals and Admin and Clerical staff, as well as the high demand for post-graduate courses. We will need to do more to reach Ancillary and Estates staff members. There is still a high demand for learning within NHS Tayside which has hardly been dented by the Lifelong Learning Group. However, there is some shift in the demand – we are seeing less demand for basic IT, perhaps as a result of successful courses run – and a greater demand for more advanced and specific packages. It is also clear from many of the written answers that respondents are unclear of the nature of the offer, with some indicating that it is inappropriate to use NHS resources to fund non-vocational learning during a time of public sector cuts. There is not a wide spread awareness that the learning is organised as a partnership and leverages in additional resources to support NHS staff. This suggests there is a continue need for publicity. The next step for the Group is to share the overview survey results with learning providers and negotiate a course programme for the year with them.

The Unite learning programme in NHS Tayside is run by convenor John Boland. You can contact him, or any other Unite rep, here.


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