I started off as a volunteer at St Helens Citizens Advice in 2009. After graduating with a Law degree in 2008, I was no stranger to learning, but volunteering at Citizens Advice has really helped me ‘learn by doing’, get some really valuable work experience, as well as leading to more qualifications – the careers advisers at university were obviously right – getting experience at a Citizens Advice really does have great benefits.
After doing my Adviser training, and doing six months as a volunteer Generalist Adviser, I had the opportunity to apply for a job as a trainee Welfare Benefits Caseworker, and got the job. On top of reading lots of books (e.g. Child Poverty Action Group and Disability Rights Handbook) my learning took the form of shadowing the Welfare Benefits Caseworkers, and learning by giving advice to clients – the more clients I saw, the more I learned – obviously my supervisor monitored my work, and their feedback and support helped me learn even more. Unfortunately after losing Legal Aid funding, I was made redundant from the trainee post.
I completed my Legal Practice course in 2011, but ended up back at Citizens Advice as a Money Advice Worker the same year. A condition of the role was completing a City and Guilds Level 3 National Energy Action qualification, which focused on giving energy advice. As part of the Money Advice team, I was also learning from other advisers on the fundamentals of debt advice, and the opportunity to talk about cases, and learn from their years of experience was really invaluable. I completed the Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) Certificate in Money Advice Practice in 2013, and make sure that I do my Continuing Professional Development (CPD) learning that’s required for Money Advisers. Rather than seeing the CPD as a burden, I look forward to identifying which areas I need to develop my knowledge in, and plan my learning based on this assessment.
My next learning goal is to learn more about housing law – many of my clients have some form of housing issue – and I’m sure this will be just one area of learning for me over the next year. One thing I have learned at Citizens Advice, is that there’s always a need to continue learning. Laws and policies change all the time, so it’s really important for us all to keep up to date.