Liz Stuffins works as a Service Development Manager as part of Walsall Council’s Public Health Programme, which, amongst other thing things, is responsible for the area’s parks and green spaces.
Having recently completed Arden University’s Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship (with MBA) programme, you can hear below as Liz took some time to tell us about her experience studying at Arden University: how she found her course, what she enjoyed about the programme, and how it’s benefitted her career.
Please tell us a little bit more about yourself and your role?
Hi, I work for the clean and green service within Walsall Council. So that's looking after parks, green space and also working in collaboration with our waste management services. A lot of the work we do around developing green spaces involves people's health, recognising that people's mental health and physical health improve significantly when they spend more time being physically active or getting out into their open spaces. Obviously, during the pandemic, we've had a lot of engagement with green spaces because people didn't have anywhere else to go.
How long have you been working with Walsall council?
I’ve been at Walsall for the last two years in my public health parks role. Prior to that I worked at Dudley council, which is where I was when I started my apprenticeship with Arden. Prior to that, I've done a variety of other jobs in the museum services, leisure, and visitor attraction services too. I spent about 16 years in Walsall in my early years, so I know the town very well. A lot of people assume it's just like, the rest of the Black Country, like Wolverhampton, but there's actually a lot more green space than the other boroughs.
How did you get involved with Arden University?
I started with Arden in early 2019. I heard about the apprenticeship programme in local government through a colleague who was working with Walsall at the time, and it seemed that Walsall were very keen to get senior leader management off the ground through the apprenticeship scheme. So I asked in Dudley if that would be possible to and they said yes. They allowed me to choose my own provider.
What made you choose the Arden programme?
I looked at a number of different ones but what I really liked about Arden was that sort of blended approach (whereas other places offered a block release type of approach). I was really pleased that Arden were offering one day a month, which was great and I really liked the online learning aspect as well. With regards to the blended approach, obviously, the pandemic changed things a little bit. We weren't able to go in to Birmingham and do our face to face work, but fortunately, we'd made good relationships with the rest of the cohort during the period. So, we could draw upon those relationships that we'd already developed.
How did you find the course?
I found it quite tough at times. I really enjoyed the first module, which revolved around looking at yourself – self-development and business development – but I’ll admit I did struggle with some of the academic theory. I have done a degree in the past, as well as a master's qualification, but that was a long time ago. With the sort of academic theoretical side, it took me a while to get my head into gear. Arden provide you with a coach though, which was absolutely brilliant. Francisco really brought us all along through the two years, setting targets that kept us on task, which was fantastic. And, then the tutors throughout were very, very good throughout. So yes, there were lots of new things that I needed to learn about that were really fascinating, and I have enjoyed the course but it has been very, very hard work. Now I’m enjoying having completed it!
How did you manage your time?
I set myself some quite strict deadlines. I worked at weekends and tried to do 20 hours a week, which is something that a colleague had suggested who'd done an MBA previously.
What do you think you gained from the programme?
There were some especially interesting parts of the module around change management and the psychology of change. Obviously, in local government, we're going through a lot of change at the moment: we've got to get our heads around, working with our residents, and getting them to self serve an awful lot. We've got to work with our communities and do more and self serve. And also, there's sort of lots of budget cuts that we've got to try and get their heads around. So looking at those aspects, and looking at the psychology of change, and I managed to do as part of my dissertation, something around change management as well. So the sort of wider transformation programmes are to going on. That is very, very current in local government. So you know, there was that opportunity to explore that more in depth.
What positive changes have you noticed, with regards to your working life, since you started the programme?
Even early on in the programme, when I applied for this job in Walsall, I could recognise that my confidence had grown significantly. And I feel that just having participated in the programme, it really helped me to get the new job.
What would you say to anyone else that was considering getting the qualification?
One of the other things I did very, very early on, which was suggested to me by a colleague was to focus on getting a learning buddy. That way you can learn from each other, discuss things, get feedback, and bounce around ideas about what you're doing.
I would also recommend people understanding the huge time commitments and making sure that you programme that time in. You have to be so strict and disciplined with yourself.
Would you say the programme represented a worthwhile investment?
It's definitely worth doing. As well as all the resources you get through the learning portal, you also, get a subscription to the CMI, so you've got access to loads of other learning stuff online. So that's really beneficial as well. And obviously, you get the Chartered status once you've gone through the qualification, so there are tonnes of benefits. You can also be mentored as part of the CMI package, in fact, there's loads of stuff through CMI that I wasn't aware of that I’ve now got access to. So it was definitely worth the investment. Especially because the apprenticeship levy in local government is available to us. I mean, I've wanted to do an MBA for the last 10 years of my life, but because in local government, that just wasn't the funding to do that sort of thing. The apprenticeship levy has allowed that to happen, which is a great opportunity for people.
And now that you've got your free time back, how are you planning on or hoping to spend it?
Well, I've now been reading other things other than textbooks, which is lovely. Going out more on long walks, doing my garden, which is fantastic. I've let my garden go wild for the last two years! And obviously, more holidays and getting out socially.
To find out how a degree from Arden University could help you, visit arden.ac.uk