Employers still fail at key skills

Employers who train their own staff do a better job overall than other
training providers, according to the final report from the Training Standards
Council.

Forty-six per cent of grades awarded to employers were "good" or
"outstanding" and only 11 per cent were less than satisfactory. The
figures compare with averages of 34 per cent and 18 per cent for other types of
provider.

Training and assessment in key skills, however, comes in for criticism
across the board. Evidence suggests that their neglect is a major factor in
poor completion rates of Modern Apprenticeship programmes.

"Modern Apprenticeships will not fulfil their potential until key
skills become an integral part of the vocational learning process," said
Keith Marshall, director of inspection (planning) for the TSC’s successor the
Adult Learning Inspectorate.

"Key skills cannot be taught effectively away from the workplace and
out of context. All of the naturally occurring opportunities for extending and
assessing them are lost. Distinct key skills assessment and record-keeping
after an NVQ level 3 is complete becomes a chore for everyone," he said.

Marshall points out that it is the job of Ali inspectors to highlight
evidence that failure to integrate key skills is not serving the needs of
learners or employers. He added, "Many providers have successfully built
key skills into the Modern Apprenticeship framework and there is much to be
learnt from examples of good practice."

Nissan has done a lot of work matching up key skills to what apprentices do.
But it is not always easy, said trainer Ian Green.

"One of the difficulties is the language used in key skills. You have
to interpret it for your own industry and ask yourself, ‘How do we actually do
that?’ You must treat key skills as substantive so they aren’t just seen as
something apprentices have to do to get a tick in the box."

Key skills also have to be up to date with changes in the workplace and stay
relevant to employers’ needs, yet those setting the standards are often
divorced from industry, Green said.

According to Stuart Smith, apprentice training manager at engineering firm
TRW, key skills should be scrapped as a requirement for craft apprentices. He
said, "It makes not a jot of difference to trainees’ ability to carry out
the skills we’re teaching them. We have a lad who’s struggling with key skills
at level 2. He’ll make a superb fitter, but he won’t get a certificate under
this system. It’s fine if you can integrate key skills, but if you can’t, you
have to teach them separately, which isolates them. And if they’re inherent in
the job, then why assess them?"

By Elaine Essery

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