Any employer worth its salt wants the best training for its staff, and the recent further education reforms announced by education and skills secretary Ruth Kelly have placed employer-backed learning right at the top of the agenda.
Under changes announced in the Further Education Reform White Paper, employers will play a much stronger role in the design of university and business school courses to ensure that the right skills are being nurtured.
Colleges will also be required to place far more emphasis on employability, and forge closer links with businesses for which they will be rewarded with greater funding.
But many organisations are taking this a step further, by gaining external accreditation for in-house training courses. Not only can this option help ensure internal courses are up to scratch, but it can also act as a valuable incentive and retention tool for staff.
Providing a recognised qualification in the workplace can take many forms, from an entry-level course certifying basic vocational skills, to major leadership development programmes in partnership with academics.
So how do they approach this? One way forward is for public and private sector organisations to approach awarding bodies about nationally recognised qualifications for staff completing company training.
Andrew Wilson, head of employer solutions at awarding body Edexcel, says employers usually have two options when it comes to accreditation: a quality audit, or a recognised qualification.
“A lot of in-house training is already very good, and the accreditation process will just reward companies for what’s already being done,” he says. “Getting a recognised badge from a major awarding body gives credibility, and ensures the training achieves what it sets out to do.”
For employers that don’t want the qualification element, a quality audit lets them measure their training against national standards and ensure things are going in the right direction.
Providing a relevant qualification to staff after completing internal training offers a host of benefits to the company and employees. While it is seen as measurable training, staff will also benefit from a recognised certificate that will boost their own career.
“It’s really about developing the workforce to improve the overall service,” says Wilson. “It’s a bottom-line issue that helps businesses recruit and retain the best people.”
And while many standard college-based courses such as NVQs are very broad, employers can tailor their own accredited qualifications to their exact needs.
For employees, there’s a double benefit. A recognised accreditation gives them credibility not just in their own workplace, but in the wider job market. Some companies even link the training to their staff reward system.
Another way in to accredited training schemes is to team up with universities or business schools to provide management programmes for senior staff.
Andy Smith, a principle consultant at business school Roffey Park, says many businesses are turning to this type of scheme because it rewards staff with qualifications and is very sector-specific. He thinks that organisations are turning away from more traditional routes, such as the MBA, because of a lack of ‘softer skill’ development.
“Increasingly, businesses want some sort of accreditation, as well as a sense of continuous professional development,” says Smith. “They also like the rigour of learning that is matched against measurable standards.
“It gets managers to think more broadly and encourages them to think about the organisation critically,” he adds.
However, the programme needs to work for each individual company’s needs, so managers should think carefully about what they want to achieve. Each course should be organisationally relevant, and companies must be prepared to be rigorous in the planning and implementation. “The whole process needs to be outcome based,” Wilson explains.
It is also vital that the certificates on offer have credibility across industry, and that the training provides real and tangible benefits.
Martyn Sloman, learning training and development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, concludes that this credibility will not just be vital for retention, but also for attracting new recruits.
“Providing a qualification with training can prove a valuable incentive to staff, but it’s only worthwhile if it has real currency in the employment market,” he says. “You can attract people through the promise of a recognised qualification at any level.”
Winning the training lottery
National Lottery Operator Camelot is one company that has used accredited training to provide formal recognition to staff and improve the core skills that drive sales.
It has launched two new qualifications, designed to give them a greater understanding of a range of different National Lottery products, as well as more advanced sales and marketing techniques.
The Certificates in National Lottery Retail Skills (levels 1 and 2) also help staff build more transferable skills in areas such as customer service, decision-making, teamwork and effective communication.
The free courses are delivered in stores by qualified assessors from awarding body NCFE, although the training is also recognised by the National Qualification Framework.
The company also has an interactive retailer training course, which has attracted more than 3,000 candidates since September 2005.