The emergence of the modern-day GAI is inextricably linked to the work and passion of the people who work for the organisation. Under the firm guidance of chief executive, Gary Amer, and visionary president Andrew Hall, the seismic changes that are taking place will put the GAI at the forefront of 21st Century business. Lisa Arcangeli reports.

The big push for 2010 is focused on its educational programme – the backbone of the organisation and a prime cash generator.

When Gary Amer took over as chief executive back in 2007, his mandate was clear; to create greater awareness of the GAI in the construction industry, build membership value, improve and communicate its technical competence to the members, to be recognised as the leading authority in architectural ironmongery and to develop the education and training portfolio that will meet the demands of today's construction industry.

Keith Maer has been associated with the GAI education programme for many years. It was back in the late 1980s that he first started lecturing. This was followed by an invitation to join the Education Committee which he has served as chairman since 2001.

As the dynamic head of the Education Committee, Mr Maer has additionally served on the GAI's Executive Committee. His passion for his subject and for conveying the importance of education to GAI members has always been inspiring. This is especially awe-inspiring when you consider that he has been doing this work on a voluntary basis while also holding down a full-time job. So, when he was asked last year to join the organisation as its full-time education manager, it was an offer he could not turn down.

"For the past four years, we have been updating the education syllabus in a number of different ways," Mr Maer said. "The biggest task has been to convert the learning manuals from their old-fashioned style into modern, 21st Century open learning modules.

"The biggest change is the style of delivery. Learning is no longer by rote, but by discovery - looking things up, finding out for yourself how things work. It is a big, broad experience, not just memorising information parrot fashion and churning it out for an exam. "The manuals in the new format lead the student to look for answers themselves with many tips and learning checks to keep them on track," Mr Maer explained.

"In the old style, students had to learn a whole range of products, but with 'open learning' it is teaching the principles along with the reasons for selecting a specific type of product. With this greater understanding the student is able to place in context his or her accumulation of product knowledge and, hopefully, be able to recommend a more excellent application for specification."

There are currently 37 learning modules being updated. By September, Mr Maer is confident that the entire syllabus will be ready for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Meantime, he continues in his role as chairman of the Education Committee as well as taking the programme forward as education manager.

"We're on target, although the manuals are only one part of the process," he pointed out. "Everything in the personal development pack is now being sent out in PDF format on memory sticks and around 30% of all marks are obtained through the GAI's online coursework."

The course is set at three levels. "When an individual enrols at Level 1, they are working toward becoming a RegAI (Registered Architectural Ironmonger) and their diploma at Level 3 is a big step towards it."

The Level 1 foundation course in ironmongery, he pointed out, is aimed at people working at the trade counter of a builders' merchant. It would be useful for individuals working on a merchant's trade counter, warehouse, in customer service, order processing, specifying, scheduling, sales or administration.

"If an individual wants to advance, they opt to undertake Level 2. This builds on product knowledge, and incorporates ironmongery for special needs and inclusive design, encouraging the individual to become more specialised as well as incorporating more bespoke subjects. All the way through there is training about the Disability Discrimination Act and the Building Regulations that flow from it," he said.

"Level 3 is the application of all the knowledge that has been learned at Levels 1 and 2. This level teaches a student how to write a full ironmongery specification for an architect."

Alongside these courses are business studies in 'finance' and 'law'. "At Level 1 we examine the basics - and we ensure that the student knows they are in business to make a profit.

"For Level 2 we might examine areas like the damage that can be done by over-discounting. At Level 3, 'finance' will teach students the important aspects in running a company - creating and reading balance sheets, for example.

At Level 3 there are prizes for the top five new diploma holders, along with the top three at Levels 1 and 2. These are presented at GAI's Awards Lunch in November, "every new diploma holder receives a certificate at the presentations", said Mr Maer.

"The GAI diploma is a 'gateway not a goal'. Once the diploma is attained at Level 3, the individual advances their study a further year to obtain a number of CPD points so as to become a RegAI (Registered Architectural Ironmonger). Thereafter, they have to collect their 10 points each year to renew their registered status. This demonstrates to the trade, and especially to customers, that they are keeping up-to-date with current standards and legislation," he said.

"Poor or wrong advice can be dangerous and costly so the GAI provides ongoing learning through the CPD programme. Setting out towards a diploma is working towards the goal of RegAI status and a career in a very fulfilling industry."

"The current modules give us the perfect platform to provide a wider product offering to a wider customer base - not just builders' merchants, but also to schools of architecture, surveyors - anyone who deals with ironmongery."

The GAI is also gearing itself up to seek external recognition through accreditation or affiliation, Mr Maer explained.

"We should be able to offer a generic qualification that will enable an individual to take their skills and apply them to other industries, if that qualification is recognised externally. This might lead to government funding, although in the current economic climate, I doubt if this will happen," he concluded.