Outdoor education specialist contributing to a brighter training future for volunteers

May 4, 2020

Award-winning tertiary educator Dr Heather Grady has been busy recently, as part of a team striving to ensure that work-based learners will thrive in the new vocational training system. But that’s not the half of it.

When she’s not at work at UCOL polytech, where she’s programme leader in Vet Nursing and Applied Science, Heather is also the founder and chair of Outdoor Training New Zealand. OTNZ provides training and advice on outdoor safety, bushcraft and more, to schools and organisations like Duke of Edinburgh, and the Te Araroa Trail Trust.

Skills Active has worked with Outdoor Training since its inception, supporting its training activities with formal work-based qualifications for its trainees. Heather is a registered Skills Active assessor.

In March, she was made an Honorary Associate of UCOL, a special award recognising her outstanding contributions through her lecturing role, her work on the UCOL health and safety representative committee, and her outdoor education work over many years, through OTNZ and Mountain Safety Council.

Heather’s broad-based background was one of the reasons she was an ideal candidate for the TEC working group established to consider what work-based learning should look like, following the reform of vocational education.

She says the group discussion has been a broad, creative exercise – imagining an ideal work-based learning model, starting from an ‘anything is possible’ perspective.

“First of all we wanted to capture what was already happening, and then think, ‘Right, what else can we do? What are the gaps?’ We looked at different types of learners with different needs, and then considered how to meet those different needs.

“I hope that our feedback gets listened to. Whether it gets taken up or not, at least it needs to be listened to, so we can  get people to start thinking,” Heather says.

She would like to see better access to vocational training for volunteers, who make up a vital portion of the outdoor recreation workforce.

At present, volunteers must have consistent and regular shifts, in order to be eligible for funded training, but Heather says this is an unnecessary barrier – especially when paid outdoor staff often don’t work to a consistent and regular roster, and yet qualify for funding.

It is becoming widely accepted that all people leading groups in the outdoors must be trained, and that’s as it should be, Heather says.

“The parents and the teachers who volunteer their time for things like Duke of Edinburgh, it’s very important for them to be properly trained. It’s easy to have the knowledge to go for a walk in the bush with a group of young people, but you need to have the knowledge to step in when things go wrong.

“And training quality really matters, because it does need to be industry-standard. We need to have people whose knowledge is based on current thinking – rather than someone in their later years trying to recollect what they learnt decades before.”

Volunteers often have different motivations and different schedules to permanent staff, Heather points out. Therefore training needs to be available to them in flexible, “bite-sized” packages, so they can get up to speed quickly to do the work that they’re keen on.

“You want to allow someone to get fully trained in one area, rather than half-trained in all areas.”

If, after the work of the reform, the vocational education structure continues to do what it has always done, then the exercise will have failed, Heather says.

“But if we can use this opportunity to make a change, and create a genuinely new organisation, then that will be a success. It has been great to take part in that feedback process, and to contribute to this possibility of change,” she says.


Pictured: Heather, at left, receiving her award, with her mother Dorothy.