To start, I’d like to offer a huge thank you to those of you who have already posted opportunities in the Directory of Student Training Opportunities (DSTO).
It really is heartening to see how willing members are to support students on their way to joining the profession as fully fledged Environmental Health Practitioners by offering opportunities for them to access in completing their Environmental Health Practitioner (EHP) Portfolio.
For those of you who are wondering what I am talking about, the DSTO is an online compendium of single training opportunities, offered by employers in the public, private, third and military sectors to students completing their EHP Portfolio or undertaking the Higher Certificate in Food Control. This directory is to help those students fill in gaps in their experience and knowledge and for them to get a feel for working in the particular sector hosting the opportunity.
By way of an illustrative practical example:
Caring Council decides to offer an opportunity for students to inspect Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). It goes to this CIEH webpage and fills out a brief form to post its opportunity. The council describes the opportunity – inspecting an HMO. It says how long that opportunity will be for – half a day or a full day or as many days as it wishes, and it says when the opportunity is not available – for example Christmas fortnight, during August or whenever it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with students. The council will then specify what, if anything, the student must do before attending, for example reading the relevant guidance documents, being aware of the relevant legislation etc and also prescribing what the student should bring with them, perhaps safety shoes or a hard hat. It also provides the name and email address of the person to whom the student should apply to take up the opportunity, so that direct contact can be made through the DSTO page. The opportunity is then uploaded by CIEH to the online DSTO and becomes live for students to access.
Sam Student is completing her EH Portfolio and is keen to carry out an inspection of an HMO. Her own employer cannot offer the opportunity, or perhaps she doesn’t have an employer and is piecing together experiences so she consults the DSTO, looking for opportunities to inspect an HMO that are convenient to her. She finds the Caring Council opportunity that suits her needs perfectly, sends an email directly from the DSTO page to the officer hosting the opportunity and makes arrangements to attend and accompany the officer to undertake an inspection which satisfies her EHP Portfolio requirement.
It’s as simple as that. I’ve said before that it’s a win-win, where the student gets the opportunity they need and the employer offering it has no obligation to them but might spot an ideal candidate for a post they have coming up in the future. Even if there is no upcoming post, Caring Council has stepped up and helped a student on their way to qualification which benefits the profession as a whole.
If you are not convinced that you should contribute opportunities to the directory, it may help if I address some of the ‘What if’s?’:
- 'What if we’re overwhelmed by students and we can’t cope with demand?’. You won’t be. You control when the students can come by listing times you don’t want them on the opportunity you post, and if a student contacts you and you don’t have capacity at that time you can just say ‘No, sorry, not right now’.
- 'What if we only have the same opportunities as everyone else?’ Great! Post them. The more repetitions we have the better. Students will pick the most convenient to them and demand will be diluted by the number of the same opportunity that exist.
- ‘What if the student needs more than we can offer?’ That’s not a problem – the student can use the DSTO to get the rest of what they need.
- ‘What if we find we no longer have the capacity to offer an opportunity or any opportunities?’ That’s okay too. Just ask CIEH to remove or suspend your entries until you do.
The DSTO will work best if it is full of opportunities, some which may be unique and some of which will be repeated over and over again in different locations. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the more opportunities it contains, the less likely it is that contributors will be approached by students to take them up. Having discussed how the directory will work and its value to students, I hope you will see that what we need is opportunities. Realistically pretty much every employer can offer at least one opportunity, whether it's inspecting high-risk food premises, unfit houses, auditing premises or health and safety visits whether from an enforcement or advisory position, many will be able to offer much more than one. If you already have a student you know what opportunities you can offer, if you don’t have the capacity or resources to employ a student you may still have enough capacity to help one or two students occasionally. As has been famously said in another arena, ‘every little helps’.
We are aiming for the DSTO to go live for students to access by summer 2022. For it to be as valuable as it can be, it needs to be populated with lots of opportunities. Please think about what you could offer, either as a local authority team, a private sector business, charity or public sector organisation and submit your opportunity. As well as earning my undying gratitude, you will be demonstrating your commitment to the future of the profession.
Finally, a word of thanks to Buckingham Futures for their support for the DSTO. It’s good to see that our young and developing professionals are supported not just by members of the profession but by Ketan Dattani and his team at Buckingham Futures. Working together we can make the DSTO a vital resource that underpins the EH Portfolio, making training opportunities available to students on the pathway to registration.