Flexible friend


A new qualification that allows learners and employers to mix and match skills according to requirements looks set to boost the number of qualified IT users at work.

Burgeoning demand for IT skills prompted the Sector Skills Council, e-skills UK, and the LSC to develop the new Information Technology Qualification, known as ITQ, to meet employer needs.

David Libbert, ITQ project director at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), explains. “An estimated 20 million people use IT at work but the number with any form of qualification is miniscule. What was previously on offer – ECDL, CLAIT, learndirect qualifications – was not being picked up in any major way. There was a real need to create something much more fit for the purpose that would be attractive to employers.”

The resultant ITQ is a framework that allows learners to select their own qualification profile based on their job role and the needs of the business. It enables them to use knowledge and skills, gained by whatever means, as part of the process of achieving an ITQ. Employer-specific practices can also be incorporated.

Three levels of qualification are available and it is possible to mix units from different levels, provided that at least 50 per cent come from the target level. The pilot has centred on Level 2, thought to be the base level which employers require.

Advantages

Gary George of Hoskins Management Development (HMD) has been working with organisations including the Royal Navy, and chocolate manufacturer, the House of Dorchester. “One advantage of the ITQ is the umbrella effect, as, although it’s a qualification in its own right, it pulls in a lot of other things,” says George. “As long as you keep within the 50 per cent rule you can have two people sitting next to each other doing a similar job with different qualification profiles.”

Around 3,500 learners and 330 employers and providers have taken part in the pilot. An evaluation by BMG Market Research shows that the ITQ’s key features of flexibility, national recognition and the facility to customise have strong employer appeal.

Among the largest organisations taking part in the pilot is international project management and services company, Amec. Information Services User Competency Lead, Julie Naylor, says: “The pilot to date has been very successful. The ITQ is good because it’s modular, flexible and designed so that we can include material that is specific to Amec, such as policies, protocol and procedures. It makes the learning experience far more relevant to the business and the individuals in their job roles.” Amec has 65 candidates enrolled on the Level 2 pilot from a cross section of roles across its UK businesses. The company plans to roll out another pilot to 200 people later this year and will offer the qualification at Level 3. “My experience is that the ITQ is going to benefit Amec because it gives us a benchmark of ability – not only of the individual but also of the company. Having a company-wide benchmark of IT user competence shows our clients that we can provide a better service.”

The Royal Navy has used the ITQ pilot to gain civilian recognition of its officers’ skills. Working with HMD, the service analysed its senior warfare ratings course and mapped the knowledge, skill and understanding requirements to the generic standards. It used the bespoke software option within the ITQ framework to accredit its weapons logistics software training.

“Our courses are quite specific to the job. Adding bits on for accreditation purposes is often quite difficult,” says Lt Rob Bailie, Accreditation Officer at HMS Collingwood. “Something like this may be a bit of extra work for the individual but having most of it based on what he already does is a huge benefit. Those who have done the ITQ feel it’s worthwhile: it gives them a more reflective approach and a broader understanding of what they’re doing.”

Jaguar enrolled 35 volunteers on the pilot and aims to continue to Level 3. Education and training manager, Phil Round, says: “I’m a firm believer in using accredited qualifications as a form of recognition. It’s a motivating agent and boosts self-esteem. IT is not an area we feel short in but the more people you can get into it, the more it helps the business.”

Assessment

Jaguar’s provider, the Partnership for Learning, has come up with a novel assessment tool: videoing candidates at their workstations to provide evidence of competence. Other organisations use expert witnesses to vouch for staff competence. Gary George sounds a note of caution here. “There is a danger that we can go too far with expert witnesses and I worry about the qualification being devalued, so we must use them with care,” he says. “We have flexibility, which is good, but we need to apply the rigour of NVQ rules throughout.”

George is convinced that ITQ is the way forward. “Employers won’t pay for staff to have skills they’re not going to use. By investing in what they need employers can increase motivation and that’s an advantage which people find appealing in ITQ.”

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