Assessments jeopardise government skills plan

Government plans to slash the number of unskilled workers by offering free, flexible training could be undermined by widespread use of unsuitable delivery methods.

Research by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) suggests there will be a big shortage of best practice examples for training providers and brokers to follow when the National Employer Training Programme (NETP) starts next year.

Linda Miller, senior IES research fellow, said Assess-Train-Assess (ATA) will be the favoured approach for delivering training on the NETP, which aims to cut the number of unskilled workers by 2.4 million by 2010.

But an IES research report entitled: Good Practice in Assess-Train-Assess Approaches to Workforce Development, has found that many providers have not yet adopted this approach.

“From my point of view, one shocking thing about this research was that we had to work so hard to find good examples of good practice in the first place,” said Miller.

She points to indications from the government that delivering training using ATA will be a key aspect of delivering the programme.

“From the first day the NVQs were introduced in 1986, it was always implicit that ATA would be how they were delivered. A lot of providers are still not following what was recognised from the start as a fairly standard approach.”

ATA involves recognising existing skills and skill gaps before identifying and designing the training needed. Once training has been delivered, progress is measured and further training needs are identified.

An earlier IES study established that only 15% of pilot projects for the NETP were using ATA. Miller said ATA is often perceived to be time consuming and expensive even though unnecessary training is likely to be avoided by using it.

“If you really tailor training to people’s needs, it gives them lots of early quick wins,” she said. “Morale is likely to increase if learners see their skills are actually improving as a result of training.”

She believes another reason for the dearth of ATA is a widespread lack of expertise in how to design and deliver training among people working in work-based learning. “People don’t understand how you set and agree an individual development plan. NETP will probably be rolled out a lot more effectively if we start to consider how we help assessors learn how to support and develop learners.”

David Greer, Learning and Skills Council director in charge of NETP, said 115m is being spent improving the whole infrastructure that supports it.

“We need to invest in more assessors and easier-to-use assessment tools in support of individual development programmes and that is exactly what we will be doing this year and over the following two years,” he said.

He adds that one of the main lessons from the NETP pilots was that achievement levels were lower where ATA was not used.

Paul Kearns of the HR and training measurement consultancy PWL, said few training departments bother to do pre-training assessments, even though it is largely down to common sense. “I can’t believe people are not doing it already. It’s simply looking at how people are performing,” he said.

Chequer Foods sets example

Chequer Foods in Telford is one of the few companies highlighted by IES as a good example of ATA in action.

Training manager Debbie Harris said: “It is very much a team effort between experienced operators and member of our training department.

“For example , when a new person starts, we will ‘buddy’ them with the operator who will assess them and feed back to us about their training needs.”

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