Interview with Suzanne Crew

Suzanne Crew was recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of UNE Partnerships, a registered training organisation that specialises in vocational education, including the Diploma of Facilities Management (FM). She brings a wealth of knowledge, gained through her extensive experience in the tertiary education sector and a 10-year career in federal politics.

What has been the biggest challenge in your new role?
The biggest challenge I faced in the first three months of my tenure was the development of a new strategic plan and budget for approval by the UNE Partnerships Board. If the strategy was going to have any chance of success, it needed to be informed by our staff, students, partner organisations and clients. Given the tight time frame, I knew from the outset that building the trust necessary for people to be open and honest with me was going to be my biggest challenge. I needed to hit the ground running, spending most of my time building relationships with staff and stakeholders. We met the deadline and the strategy was approved by the board. Only time will tell if it is a success or not!

More generically, my challenges are the same as most CEOs and senior management teams in tertiary education; an uncertain public policy environment, an increasingly complex and volatile regulatory environment, changing student and client expectations (and the need for pedagogical innovation and the technological investment required to keep pace with these demands), and increased competition domestically and internationally. Thus, it is now imperative to instil change-readiness and agile processes as core to any tertiary education institution.

What are your main priorities for the future of UNE Partnerships?
I have four main priorities for 2019:

  1. implement a new course design model to make our courses more adaptable in a changing tertiary education market
  2. introduce supplementary student support initiatives to create a unique learning support environment for our students
  3. roll out access to Vet Student Loans for our students
  4. seek registration as a CRICOS provider.

How do you ensure students receive quality training that aligns with industry needs?
Our aim is to deliver experientially and research-informed vocational education and training courses that are practical, contemporary, customised and unique in an Australian vocational sector dominated by the delivery of standardised training packages.

UNE Partnerships has a long history of closely partnering with key industry bodies – such as the FMA – to ensure that the needs of the industry are reflected in course design, delivery, content and assessment. We also select trainers and assessors based on their reputation and standing in their sector to ensure students are receiving contemporary and informed knowledge and skills from leaders in the field.

The content development process for the Diploma of FM included two expert review stages for each module. Members of the FMA education committee were invited to review content at the first and second drafts to ensure the concepts, case studies and assessment expectations aligned with best practice in the FM sector.

We also make the most of our relationship with the University of New England (UNE) to ensure that the knowledge-based components, especially in relation to the leadership and management components of our higher-level qualifications, remain aligned with current applied research findings and trends.

The Diploma of FM is a self-directed/paced online course. How do you ensure students remain engaged when they have the freedom to learn at their own pace?
UNE Partnerships students are generally mature adults working in a role directly related to their area of study, and are strongly motivated to succeed. While many find it difficult to fit study around existing professional and personal commitments, they appreciate the flexibility of the UNE Partnerships approach, and the encouragement and support of our staff.

Attention to individual students is a key factor in their success. Each student is provided with an individual study and submission plan in their enrolment dashboard so that they can easily benchmark their progress. UNE staff review individual student progress monthly and follow up those that appear to be falling behind in their studies to offer encouragement, advice and assistance to keep them on track. Assessment submission dates are adjusted to suit individual needs and commitments, helping them to manage their own time and take responsibility for their own success.

In addition, over the next 12 months, UNE Partnerships will be rolling out two new initiatives to help students remain engaged with their studies. Firstly, we will be introducing a mentor scheme, matching students with industry representatives or academic coaches depending on the needs of the students. Secondly, we will commence sector-level webinars aimed at all students, regardless of how far advanced they are with their studies, to provide students with not only knowledge and skills pertinent to their field, but a chance to engage as part of a learning community. We are also exploring a new student engagement platform, which we hope to roll out in 2019.

The FM industry has been greatly affected by new technology. How do you equip students with the skills necessary to navigate the digital world?                                     

Our courses are competency-based, requiring students to demonstrate and apply their new skills and knowledge in real-world situations. While the diploma does not teach students to use specific software packages or focus on advancements in technology, it does build skills in critical thinking, digital literacy, information collection, data analysis and reporting. Our focus is on the ability to make sense of the data and information to which facilities managers are exposed, and use it to guide decision-making.

Learning in an online environment also helps to develop a range of skills for the digital world, encouraging students to use new technologies for improved information collection analysis and reporting, communications, planning and scheduling, and research and presentation skills. As early adopters of new technology, FMs embrace the change and recognise the benefits.

In 2018, UNE Partnerships committed to providing an annual scholarship for the Diploma of FM for Indigenous Australians. What do you hope to achieve through this scholarship?
FMA launched its Indigenous Engagement Strategy in June 2018. One of the key actions was to work with a range of organisations to put in place some tangible actions that will see greater engagement with the Indigenous community and the FM industry.

Through this scholarship, UNE Partnerships and the FMA can provide access to skill development and help to reduce barriers to education for Indigenous people interested in pursuing a career in facilities management.

To support this initiative, the FMA will be working with a range of large players within the industry to gain access to an employment opportunity for each scholarship recipient – ensuring a pathway from education to employment.

To read the full interview with Suzanne Crew, please refer to Facility Perspectives, Vol 13 No 1. 

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