There are benefits to lifelong learning for members through third-level and in-service training courses writes Darren Martin.
The Garda College never closed in the last few years; in-service training courses did continue. The college is now seeing the return of new garda members for the first time in many years, with an impressive number of people who still wish to become a guard despite the reduced pay and increased dangers. The recruitment process has drawn some very highly qualified people, some of whom have come to the organisation with third level qualifications already obtained from third level colleges and universities.
For members without such qualifications, the question is whether there is a need for third level qualifications for members of the Garda Síochána beyond their time in Templemore, or has it become a necessity in a job, which some class as ‘unskilled labour’, in order to gain advancement or promotion? What benefits accrue to individuals or the organisation seeking to gain qualifications within their service? Is it the case that there is a greater requirement on the organisation to provide in-service training and up-skilling for its members in lieu of formal college education?
When one hears the language used to describe policing today, there has arisen many and colourful adjectives to describe what is essentially the same function within the State as it always has done since its establishment. Commentary on law enforcement today uses words such as ‘smart policing’ ‘customer orientated policing’ to describe the roles of the ‘modern’ Garda Síochána. The level of education achieved by garda applicants has increased over the years but this is a reflection of society in general with more school leavers having the opportunity to go on to further education courses post their leaving certificate.
Garda Síochána members serve 30 years or more and for many once they leave Templemore it marks the end of their formal education; but it shouldn’t mark the end of learning and developing new skills. The question is how the organisation prepares its members for specialist or management roles into the future. It is possible for a person to be appointed to a senior management position that previously was not a member of the organisation but in the majority of cases future managers are drawn from those within the organisation. As such it falls to the organisation to identify and prepare future managers for such roles. It is only when someone has been promoted a number of times that the ability of qualifying to participate in police management courses becomes open to them through their employment. Such courses only seek applicants who have already been promoted to supervisor or management ranks and are not open to garda rank which is unfortunate.
The purpose of education is to prepare a person for the future role that they may aspire to. It is unusual in a competency based promotion process that it is only after the person is found to have the required competencies and promoted to a senior rank that they may then avail of management courses in police management. Surely it could be the other way around or even a requirement for those who wish to go forward for promotion. In the garda promotion competitions for sergeant or inspector there are no formal marks awarded for educational qualifications, but perhaps there should be. Perhaps in-service courses too should have some formal points awarded on the assessment process for advancement or selection to specialist units in addition to the competency based process.
Historically, such ideas were put forward for the Garda Síochána but they were subsequently set aside. It may have been unfair to members who had no desire to undertake management courses in order to be promoted and that there was no link to good policing success and academic qualifications. Many might agree with this view too.
Members who decide to undertake further educational courses may do so for a variety of reasons. The number of courses available and the areas of study which may be undertaken provides ample opportunity for members to expand their knowledge and experience. There is no reason why in-service training could not achieve the same results with job oriented course content specific to the role of a Garda Síochána member.
For those who have no intention of undertaking a formal college course there should be the option within the organisation to engage in different forms of career development courses. The advent of E-learning is one avenue that could be utilised by members to learn new skills or to receive updates on their training since they passed out. There are many courses that could be delivered by way of distance learning within the organisation as part of ongoing training.
The benefits to the organisation are obvious too, in that it informs its members and gives them new information and skills to be used in their day to day duties. These courses could be given accreditation through established universities or colleges too and perhaps could provide dispensation should a member wish to enrol in another formal college course at a later date. This would be similar to the accreditation given to the Degree in Policing Studies awarded at the end of a guard’s training in Templemore.
The opportunities for study on selected courses are offered occasionally and members seek sanction which is based on the criteria set out in the application process. The organisation has been proactive in supporting members on college courses not included by the organisation inviting application. Although we have been through severely challenging fiscal times, the benefits of investment in in-service and college courses for members generally outweighs the initial costs and provides long term benefits to the member and the organisation given that the majority of guards serve their full term.
There are those who lament back to generations past and point to the fact that the guards of old had little in the way of formal education, or indeed need for it; different times, different policing requirements too. Today the Garda Síochána is tasked with investigating complex offences such as fraud, financial ‘white collar’ crimes and cyber-crime. There is an operational need to be ready for these investigations.
For members considering college or university courses you will always find reasons not to apply. For those who do apply, you will not regret the decision if you do. If you’re still unsure of committing to a college course, start with studying for the promotion exams to give you an idea of how it feels to be back studying again. Seek to do in-service courses when they come available. It is in the organisation’s interest to provide training and up-skilling for its members who in turn shall provide a better service to the public.
The organisation is lucky to have a training college available but its services should include provision for accredited training courses for its members into the future. There are many courses and opportunities for study to avail of in third level institutions. Obviously financial considerations may impact on your decision and self-financing may restrict your options depending on your personal circumstances. Whatever your decision, committing to a programme of study may seem daunting, but it’s worth it in the end when you achieve your goal. The benefit for An Garda Síochána is having its members ready for future policing requirements.
Darren Martin is a Detective Garda attached to Harcourt Square. He also holds a BL, Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Kings Inns. A Master of Laws (LL.M) from Trinity College Dublin. A Master of Science (MSc) in Police Science and Management from the University of Portsmouth, a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) from University College Dublin, a Bachelor of Arts Hons (BA) Administration of Justice from the Institute of Public Administration and a Certificate on Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews.
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