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Fiona McGeoghegan

Fiona McGeoghegan Probation Service Officer

Be Inspired Series

Paula McCreary

Director of Programme Delivery
Centre for Applied Learning

What does your job involve?

I am responsible for the quality and content of the wide range of training and development programmes offered by the Centre for Applied Learning (CAL). I manage the recruitment and development of our trainers which includes overseeing their performance. My role also involves the establishment and maintenance of our accredited centres.

Tell me about the organisation's background?

CAL was established in April 2006 to provide generic training to all Northern Ireland Civil Service departments. It was part of a wider reform programme within the Civil Service aimed at delivering better public services for citizens.

CAL has played a valuable role in supporting this reform by providing staff with new knowledge and skills. Prior to CAL being formed many departments had their own training units. CAL's establishment has improved access to a wider range of high quality cost-effective courses for staff in the Civil Service.

CAL also provides training to Government agencies such as; Northern Ireland Court Service, Northern Ireland Policing Board, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and to Non-Departmental Public Bodies. We offer training at all levels including administrative, management and leadership training.

In addition we provide a number of courses and programmes which are accredited as nationally recognised qualifications. These accredited programmes are externally validated providing a level of quality assurance for our customers.

CAL recently became part of the new Civil Service Shared Services Organisation which is delivering more effective and efficient shared services for finance, HR, generic training and IT support.

How did you get in to this line of work?

I joined the Civil Service in 1983 as a clerical assistant in the Department of Economic Development. Several posts, some promotions and ten years later I saw an internal trawl competition for a training officer post in the department. Training had always appealed to me and I was attracted by the opportunity to specialise in a certain area so I decided to apply for the post.
At the time I was providing secretarial support to senior management and the departmental board and dealing with governance issues so to move into training was a complete change. I gradually worked my way up from training officer to training manager and eventually to head of training in the Department of Economic Development prior to joining CAL as director of programme delivery.

Have you always been interested in training?

I thoroughly enjoyed the training courses I had attended when I joined the Civil Service and felt that training was an area that I would really enjoy. I always had an interest in teaching and had taught Sunday school for many years and from the first day in the role I absolutely loved it.

The Civil Service takes training very seriously and I have had the opportunity to be involved in many exciting initiatives, from Investors in People to developing departmental HR strategy and training policy.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently overseeing the development of a number of new training programmes -- one of which is a new accredited policy programme, the first of its type in the UK aimed at policy makers which will sit at Masters Level. Training is constantly evolving and we have to be able to develop new programmes to meet our customers' needs. I am also involved in helping our organisation prepare for the implementation of a UK-wide review of the vocational qualifications system.
As an organisation we are always looking at alternative and more innovative ways to deliver training -- this keeps my role fresh and varied.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

It is very rewarding when trainees receive a hard-earned qualification and when they change the way they do things as a result of attending one of our programmes. If staff can do a better job and offer a better service to citizens then we know we have done a good job.

In 2008, CAL won the top award at the Whitehall & Westminster World Civil Service Awards in the HR, Learning and Development category for our innovative Essential Skills Training programme. Beating off competition from the entire GB Civil Service and receiving external recognition at this level after only being in business for two years was a real achievement.

To date, we have trained over 44,000 people and awarded over 1,700 nationally recognised qualifications. Knowing that you are part of an organisation which is providing people with the knowledge and skills to help them in their job is very satisfying. And, of course, it is always great to receive positive feedback from trainees -- after all without them we wouldn't be in business.

And the biggest challenges?

Finances are tight and like everyone we have to deliver more with less, working smarter and making efficiencies while providing a quality service for our customers. Through improvements in productivity we have been able to pass on savings to departments by reducing our course prices by 20% in-year.

It is also a challenge to keep up-to-date with changing trends, new products and customer demands. Luckily, we have a very motivated team of people who are committed to providing a good service and this enthusiasm and energy is vital to the success of our business.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I like eating out with friends, going to the theatre and concerts, reading, shopping, and cooking. I am also a Sunday school teacher and sit on a board of governors for a local nursery school. As the mother of two teenage girls I like 'girlie time' and family nights out.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I once broke two ribs in a coughing fit. I was also born on the same day as Brad Pitt although I don't think he is aware of our bond.

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