City Business Library upgrades service with SFEDI professional qualification

In 2016 London’s City Business Library began using SFEDI professional qualifications to add value to its existing services. We spoke to Richard Wingate of Quality Leadership and Management (QLM) who delivered the training, as well as to some of the librarian learners themselves. 

London’s City Business Library provides its users with an invaluable array of enterprise information, advice and signposting so the librarians who work there need to be prepared to dispense knowledgeable business advice and support to people on all sorts of enterprise journeys. As part of their own personal development, last year three of the librarians embarked on the SFEDI Level 5 qualification in Professional business and enterprise support services, which was delivered by training company Quality Leadership and Management (QLM). Although QLM started life in 2010, owner Richard Wingate has been running training businesses for almost two decades and he told us how the QLM / City Business Library training came about:

“City Business Library identified a market for business librarians to provide  business support and advice and  approached QLM to find out what qualifications we could offer. We suggested that the SFEDI Level 5 in Professional business and enterprise support services (a competency based, assessed programme) might be appropriate to their needs.”

Having agreed with the Library that this was the right training programme for their  staff the first stage was for Richard to carry out  individual  knowledge and skill audits with the participants, allowing him to  better understand the daily interactions the librarians have with library users and the structure and processes they follow when providing business support. The audits also identified skills and knowledge gaps enabling the SFEDI workshops to be designed to meet these.

The training consists of two day-long workshops with learners also receiving coaching to help them implement their learning on a practical level. Since achieving their qualifications the three business librarians have gone from providing occasional business advice for a few businesses, to providing regular advice to users who visit repeatedly.

Richard says:

“The focus of the training was to help business information providers (the librarians) to add advice giving to their skills. They had good understanding of enterprise, were eager to learn and to ensure their learning could be applied to providing an effective business support service.”

As well as catching up with Richard, we also spoke to the librarians themselves about how the training has improved their everyday interactions with those using the library. Esther Greenwood has worked at City Business Library for three years and previously worked in Croydon libraries. We asked her what new skills the training had given her that could be applied in her day-to-day role:

“We often work one-to-one with people who want to run their own businesses, helping them to look at the information we have in the library about start-ups or markets. The training gave me more confidence but it also means I can help someone look at their business plan and spot what might be missing. For example, this morning I was with a lady who would like to open a beauty salon and we spoke about the different licenses she would need, as well as the start-up costs she’d have to cover. It’s about looking at the nitty-gritty.”

As well as gaining generally in confidence, Esther has also found herself using specific enterprise tools taken from the SFEDI programme. She says:

“One thing I particularly appreciated was using the Business Model Canvas, which helps people to visualise what they have that they can offer customers but also what they need to make their offer accessible to potential customers. I’ve found that to be a very useful way of helping people.”

Esther’s colleague Sophie Dean also felt that her professional output had benefited from having undertaken the training:

“This qualification was a way of taking what we offer clients a little bit further and being able to give advice alongside the information we provide. The training helped me to understand that these sessions should be led by the customer and that we as advisors shouldn’t have our own agenda on topics to discuss.”

Additionally, Sophie found the course was useful in exploring the ways in which people take in and digest new information. She says:

“We did some work around learning styles and looking at our own ways of learning. In turn, this made me think about customers’ different learning styles. So, as well as reviewing the many resources we have at our disposal, it also helped me think about how we conduct conversations with customers and how we can build on those.”

Wendy Foster was the third librarian to undertake the training and as a City Business Library employee of 14 years standing, she’s been doing the job for the longest of the three. Despite her longevity in the role she still found there was much to learn:

“I wanted to take what I was already doing further, giving customers more detailed advice on business plan writing. I also wanted to have more authority on the topics I talk to customers about.”

Although there hasn’t been a dramatic shift in how Wendy interacts with the people she supports, she has noticed a discernible change in the quality of her work:

“Now that I give advice sessions, I’m doing more research for each new client so by default this has expanded my knowledge. This is knowledge I can then relay to other customers within the library.”

Working with the librarians at City Business Library demonstrates to Richard just how versatile and effective the SFEDI qualification is in helping a wide range of organisations to deliver business support services.

“The SFEDI qualification offers a clear route to professional status for individuals from both traditional and non traditional settings as it provides the required process and structure for undertaking the professional business support role.”

“I think if someone wants to deliver business support they must have an interest in enterprise and in helping people achieve their goals; a flexible approach and the confidence. to use knowledge, information and experience to advise and/or sign post each client, according to their needs.”