“There are a lot of companies doing valuable work in up-skilling their workforce, and it would be a good thing if their staff could come away with a tangible and recognised qualification from this learning,” says Sue Husband, education manager at McDonald’s UK.
The fast-food giant is one of many companies involved in a pilot scheme spearheaded by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which hopes it will lead to the development of a nationally acknowledged system for gaining external accreditation for training in the workplace.
Husband says, as a first step, she would like managers in her restaurants to gain credits towards hospitality and catering qualifications, and office-based and senior staff to be able to work towards more generic management qualifications, including degrees.
The scheme is the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), and Samina Khan, deputy head of the programme, says it has generated a lot of interest, with more than 200 employers contributing to a consultation process, which ended on 12 October.
Pilots are under way, and the QCF is expected to go live mid-way through 2008.
Khan describes it as a “flexible and accessible” system that will allow staff to build up credits through internal training, “in areas ranging from signal maintenance to PowerPoint presentations”, that count towards recognised qualifications. Information on how many credits a person has built up will be kept in an online ‘learning achievement record’.
“Think of it as a bank account for skills,” says Khan. “Getting a recognised, transferable qualification will help with employee satisfaction and mean that people who move jobs won’t have to re-train where they already have skills. It will also mean employers know what skills they are getting when they recruit people.”
As the name suggests, a new credit framework is at the heart of the QCF. Each internal course that is mapped on to the framework will be given a credit and level rating.
One credit will represent 10 hours of learning – showing how much time and effort it takes to complete – and the level, of which there are eight, will indicate how difficult it is. For example, level 2 will equate to a GCSE, and level 8 a PhD.
These credits and levels will then be used to determine which yet-to-be-launched QCA qualification is awarded.
At McDonald’s, Husband says if the QCF is to be a success, it is vital that the mapping process is not too onerous, and employers do not have to radically change their in-house training to comply with it.
“All the signs so far are that the QCA is trying to be as flexible as possible and take employers’ needs on board,” she says.
But while it is hoped the QCF will become a national standard for training accreditation, there are already established routes to gaining recognised qualifications through workplace learning.
For example, government-backed e-learning provider Learndirect runs a programme called Learning Through Work, which started in 2001.
Through partnerships with higher education establishments, including Chester, Northumberland and Southampton universities, employees can earn credits towards honours ranging from certificates and diplomas through to postgraduate qualifications.
Learndirect’s manager of the programme, Judy Saxton, says participants can take existing modules or work with the institutions to develop new modules based on their own in-house projects. “Employers don’t tend to sign up to a whole qualification, but take relevant modules, which give credits towards a qualification,” she says.
Employers can also work with individual educational institutions to get internal training validated.
A case in point is an initiative between the AA and Coventry University, where 28 middle managers from the motoring organisation are enrolled on a Capability Improvement Programme (CIP). This uses real-life work experiences as a basis for raising managerial-type skills and giving participants the chance to earn points towards a degree, or an NVQ Level 3 in management.
CIP content is based on what participants do at work and the outcomes of talks between the university and senior managers at the AA.
Andy Birch, the learning and development consultant for the AA’s CIP project, said: “Work is the curriculum and the curriculum is work.”
Case study: ministry of defence
At the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it is hoped external recognition for the training given in the services will lead to personnel finding a better job when they finally hit Civvy Street.
According to lieutenant colonel Nick Maher, who works in the training and education unit at the MoD, three courses – one each for the RAF, Army and Royal Navy – have been entered into the QCF pilot trial, and a consultant is currently mapping them against the framework.
“Our training – be it vehicle maintenance or catering – is good quality, but often personnel who spend a large slice of their life in the military don’t get recognition for the skills they’ve picked up once they get into the outside world,” he says.
And while 90% of those who leave the Armed Forces find employment within six months, Maher feels “they sometimes have better skills than the routes they get funnelled down”.
He adds: “Traditionally, we have recruited many people with few or no qualifications. Accreditation for our training will serve as an engine for social mobility, and give people leaving the services more opportunities than they had before they joined.”