Posted on 30 January 2012
Guildford College Principal David Collins finds out first-hand about a day in the life of a horticulture technician
If telephone callers to Guildford College Principal David Collins last week thought his voice sounded as if it was coming from the back of a potting shed, they were right.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Dr Collins CBE took a break from his desk in the management suite to get down to grass roots – literally – as a horticulture technician at Merrist Wood College, which is part of the Guildford College Group. He was not alone either. Other members of the management executive and senior managers joined him in “going back to the floor”. Nasrin Farahani, vice principal for curriculum and quality, found out what it’s like to be a hairdressers’ receptionist when she worked at the college’s training hair and beauty salon while Martin Jones, Vice Principal for Finance and Resources, left his spreadsheets behind to join a faculty administration team’s office. For Sue Clyne, Executive Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, it was back to the floor – with a vacuum cleaner. Her temporary job in facilities management included campus cleaning.
Ensuring that it was really a week with a difference, Dr Collins also declared it an email and meeting free week for all. The “back to the floor” experiment was suggested by Dr Collins as a way of encouraging better communications and understanding within the organisation. The suspension of emails and meetings was to encourage more one to one discussion and use of non-email communication, prompted by staff comments that there were too many meetings and too much reliance on communicating by email within the Colleges.
After getting back to normality this week he said: “For me it’s been great - less than five emails a day as compared to the normal 50 plus – and the time to talk to staff, as well as gaining a good understanding of how the horticulture technicians work. The answer is - very hard! I’ve helped mark out exam plots, dig trenches for roses, potted on, picked out, cut bamboo canes in 40cm lengths, swept floors and washed classroom tables and umpteen seed trays. I’ve also slept like a baby, although with a few aches in muscles I’d forgotten I had.”
As well as discovering what a ‘T-section’ and a ‘quasi-semi’ are (both terms relating to hair colouring), Nasrin Farahani was pleased to be able to “add value” by helping the salon team in developing a hair and beauty clients’ database. Martin Jones found his days in a busy faculty office, where he answered student ‘phone calls, updated registers and records and completed finance purchase order requisitions, “informative and constructive”. It renewed his determination to cut down bureaucracy, he said. “We should spend less time capturing data and more time using it to focus our energies on what will make a difference and impact on student experiences and performance.”
“Everyone embraced the opportunity to see how things really work in areas of the colleges other than their own,” said Dr Collins, who is interim Principal at the College, which expects to make a permanent appointment soon. “We ‘apprentices’ were made very welcome by all the staff and enjoyed working with them as a team.” He said that it had been a valuable exercise which helped develop the relationship between management and staff and its success meant it was likely to be repeated in the future.