External accreditation for internal training and learning programmes

The CBI wants more internal training and learning activities to be given formal external accreditation. It should be a win-win opportunity for in-house learning and development departments.

Our brush with formal qualifications usually ends the moment we leavethe education system. Even though we may carry on learning new skills and training throughout our working lives, these milestones aren’t usually accredited by any formal awards.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) wants this to change. It is calling for the government to create nationally recognised qualifications that credit some of the excellent workplace training happening in UK companies. This will also help combat the country’spoor ranking on skills levels internationally.

UK firms spend more on training proportionally than the rest of the EU, but as only one in three of those pounds are spent on formally recognised awards, we are wrongly perceived as skills laggards.

“Thirty-three billion poundsis spent on training in the UK a year, which is fantastic,” says Louise Morgan, policy adviser of the CBI’s education and skills group. “It’s quite a considerable amount, but a lot of it is not captured in the formal qualification system. We definitely need to raise our game in terms of international benchmarking.”

Have the power

In its report, Shaping up for the future: the business vision for education & skills, the CBI proposes that companies should have the power to award their own staff with formal qualifications.

A similar approach already works well in Australia, where firms are licensed to provide training programmes and award qualifications to their staffonce the content has been ratified by the local equivalents of the UK’s sector skills councils.

These formal qualifications are desirable for employees as they give them proven and transferable skills that can help them gainnew positions. From an employer’s perspective, it will increase the productivity and loyalty of staff.

“Traditionally, employers are more interested in skills and competencies rather than qualifications, but they do recognise that it isimportant for morale and motivation in the workplace,” says Morgan.

Save money

It can also save companies money. “Some employers are anxious that if they train the workforce they’ll leave, but often if you invest in support and education, they will deliver that loyalty, and there’s evidence that this will help reduce the hidden costs of staff turnover,” argues Derek Longhurst, chief executive of Foundation Degree Forward (FDF). 

“What some employers have realised is that the cost of not training staff and not keeping up to date can actually be a greater cost then training them.”

How exactly self-accreditation will work in practice is still open for debate, but the CBI suggests what’s important now is to establish pilot schemes to determine best practice.

However it eventually works out in practice, the government needs to pick up the tab and encourage employer participation. The CBI report claims that accreditation can account for 10% to 20% of the cost of training, yet it tends to be more important to staff who are keen to prove their competence than their employers.

For that reason, the CBI suggests the government pays for the accreditation and picks up the estimated £471m annual administration costs. It also says the Adult Learner Accounts, outlined in Lord Leitch’s skills report, should fund the scheme.

There are already schemes in place to promote formal qualifications. The FDF, for example, works in partnership with employers, universities and other groups to create foundation degrees that are both relevant to a particular company or sector, and are also academically rigorous. Completing an FDF degree is the equivalent to the second year of an honours degree, and can be used as credits towards a traditional degree.

Part of the FDF’s remit is to put organisations in touch with universities and colleges thatcan then assess and accredit their existing work-based training. This kind of partnership is vital for any national qualification system to work effectively.

The FDF is working with Tesco (see case study) to create a foundation degree in retail, which can then be used by other companies.

Basic skills

Although these degrees are industry–specific, employers in all sectors are looking for basic communications skills, and would welcome recognisable qualifications.

“Most employers want people with a broad understanding of customer care, so they are looking for people who can exercise judgement and take responsibility, rather than people trained to do specific tasks,” says Longhurst.

What’s important is that the formalised training is more than tick-box learning. “Really, we’re talking about cognitive as well as practical skills,” points out Longhurst.

If this radical skills shake-up is going to work, however, the government needs to simplify the qualifications system, and make it easier for employers to find the help they need.

Case study: Tesco

Supermarket giant Tesco plans to provide a foundation degree in retail for appropriate staff.

The degree is a joint effort between the FDF, the Retail Academy, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of the Arts, and e-learning provider MyKnowledgeMap.

They will create a combination of learning materials and means of delivery from residential courses to workplace based e-learning materials.

Core modules will include business improvement, customer and staff loyalty, and the application of technology. The content will draw on workplace experience to make it relevant to Tesco and other retail employees.

Forty Tesco employees will begin the pilot programme in September.

“The Retail Foundation Degree will become the latest part of the set of Tesco training and development on offer to our people,” says Tesco spokeswoman Claire Peters.

“Our aim over the next five years is that all store employees will be able to enhance their education with Tesco, no matter what their age or level.”

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