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27 May 2020

Changing times for learning and development

Racing to School Trustee Kevin Parsons’ day job supports learning projects for NARS (National Association of Racing Staff). Hear how Kevin’s work has adapted during the Coronavirus pandemic, and about preparations for the safe resumption of racing.

My role for NARS began in 2012, when government funding was confirmed through Union Learn. This job represented a slight change in career direction within the industry, but now over seven years later I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

In 2017, I was a runner up at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff awards in the ‘Community Award’ for my work on the project. The next year, I joined the board of Racing to School as a Trustee, supporting the educating youngsters within and about the industry; I am delighted to be a tiny part of this work.

What is Union Learn?

The initiative and funding is to help unions reach people within their own workforce to help provide them with core training (English, Maths and ICT) and wider courses, careers advice and support. This can be from helping to write a CV for someone, to setting up courses locally, or working with colleges to design a relevant course to suit the needs of staff in that area.
The Union Learning funding is outcome-based: the more learners that take part on courses, the more outcomes, and the more money that can be bid for the following year. This works both ways. If only 80% of outcomes set as the target total are reached, then only 80% of the project finances will be received.

Each year at NARS, we have hit or surpassed our target totals and the project has continued to grow in numbers while also expanding on what we can offer. Last year we offered English, Maths, ICT, ESOL (English courses for foreign speaking staff) and our hugely successful Mentoring, Leadership and Team Skills course – the course generously sponsored by jenningsbet.

Supporting staff across racing

NARS primary role as a Trade Union is to support staff throughout the industry with employment issues and their many questions, while also helping to improve the overall job, pay and working conditions. We strive to improve conditions to keep staff working in what is a fantastic industry and a great career.

During these testing times with no racing, it is a tough time for many staff in racing that have been released from their jobs or furloughed. Figures from the BHA database at the end of April state that around 400 had left the industry, while just over 500 staff had been furloughed.

A workforce with an average number of around 6,500 staff currently has about 14% not currently working. We had many calls to our office in the first few weeks of lockdown, with queries about redundancy, furlough, covid19 protocols in the workplace and exercising the horses.

The NARS office has four staff members, two that primarily work for NARS: Chief Executive George McGrath and Office Manager Molly Hobbs.

Dominique Tortice and I manage the Union Learn project. Only George has been in the office every day, but we have worked together to ensure that nothing has really changed at NARS. We have just been busier dealing with many more queries than usual and as part of the ‘Resumption to Racing’ group.

With many of the staff getting in touch with issues during the lockdown, we sent out a survey to help gauge what was going on in the workplaces. Feedback told us that 43% of staff felt their job was at risk; 47% was worried about paying their bills and 36% felt unsafe with protocols and procedures in the workplace.

A new online learning hub for the industry

For the Union Learn project, it is a challenging time for learning. We have been part of the new industry online learning platform ‘Racing2learn.’ We’ve been involved from original conception to helping develop modules of learning. We have our Maths module on there and this and our English module are racing orientated. We are also currently in development of two more modules, one on Mentoring and one for Leadership and Team Skills.

Racing2Learn offers education and development opportunities suitable for roles across racing

Each of the modules has been developed by West Suffolk College. We have made them relevant to racing and worked with the tutors in the process. Naturally, we can’t currently deliver courses to students face-to-face, but we have been very busy and still are, designing modules for staff/learners to keep improving them.

I have adopted the world of Zoom to replace the visits I would have made to the British Racing School and National Horseracing College at the end of each course. I have been able to continue those talks, so no student joining the industry has missed out.

Showcasing the best teams

My last couple of weeks have been even busier in my role as a judge for the Lycetts Team Champion Awards, reading through the trainers’ nominations. The Lycetts Team Champion is an initiative run by the National Trainers Federation, for yards to put themselves forward for accreditation as an industry employer. A shortlist is arrived at for those with either Under or Over 40 horses.

The award covers several areas:

  • Recruitment and Induction
  • Safe Working Environment
  • Leadership
  • Management and Communications
  • Development and Training
  • Reward and Recognition.

Reading through these nominations, reviewing the evidence, including watching many videos, is pleasing and great to see some fantastic work going on in the industry. There is often a perception of poor working practices and pay, but this is not true if what I’ve read over the last three years as a judge is anything to go by. The hardest part is scoring the nominations and as one of five judges, it’s not all down to me, thankfully.

The shortlist for this year has just been announced and congratulations to those included. I look forward to seeing the other judges and the shortlisted yards via Zoom over the next couple of weeks.

We don’t stand alone

Over these past two months, while NARS and I have continued to be busy, we can’t thank Racing Welfare enough. Their overall support and the ‘Hardship Grant’ they have provided for staff with financial difficulties during these times is superb. Their ‘Furlong Factor’ singing contest for staff across the whole industry also deserves a mention, as does Lara Telfer, the overall winner.

For any staff with any queries or worries, not just during lockdown but at any time, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

NARS at 01638 663411 or, Racing Welfare 0800 6300 443 or via their website.

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