Professional training in any of the care professions - social work, psychology, medicine, nursing, OT etc - demands of its students not just a high level of specialist knowledge, competence and conscientiousness, but also a quality of emotional engagement in what is seen as 'a calling' - a vocation.   Preparing students of these professions for the emotional challenges the work can bring is an essential part of the process.

Those who go on to work with people who have had multiple experiences of marginalisation and exclusion, those with some of the most complex and challenging needs, will need to have an exceptional focus on learning to work with this client group. But even those who do not specialise in this way will also need an enhanced awareness of the issues, if they are not to find themselves unwittingly becoming part of the problem.

In the past, the main effective way to prepare students was by direct experience, often beginning before they enter training via voluntary work, but crucially, via workplace placements. This apprenticeship-style learning was until recently the only way to get a real engagement with how working in the frontline feels.  Placements remain a crucial part of vocational training; but they are getting harder to arrange, as frontline staff are under growing pressure from their own caseloads, and any other means to be involved are valuable.

The internet now offers a means for students to experience some, at least, of the vividness of working in frontline services by means of engagement with webinars and similar participatory opportunities to hear and see staff of services discussing developments, and asking their own questions about how we can learn to work with complex needs.Providing access to the PIElink;s constantly changing material on creative ways to meet complex needs, let alone enabling access to webinars and other such live discussions, to students as part of their training would add value significantly to the “teaching and learning offer’ universities can make to their other work.

The bulk of a university’s budget – the expenditure for which they charge student’s fees – goes on staffing, and primarily teaching staff. A small proportion goes to library services, including subscriptions to journals, by which it is intended that students – and staff - will have access to the most up-to-date and creative thinking. Yet even a small proportion of that library subscriptions budget, coming from a huge number of universities and other teaching establishments would be more than enough to fund a staff team to maintain the PIElink – and have surplus to re-invest.

NB: Librarians make their decisions on how to spend their budgets based on consultations – usually quite formal and structured - with their academic colleagues on the needs of the students; but professional bodies, that try to identify what the learning needs are of those who will become the next generation of entrants to the profession, also have a significant in-put, in determining which college courses have provided an adequate training, so that their professional qualification that is awarded is of a sufficiently high standard.

This consultation process on what the role of on-line and immersive learning needs to be in the future, suggests that any advisory board for the development of a resource such as the PIElink would benefit from representation from professional qualification councils, as well as from managers and representatives of the frontline services themselves.