Transport for London, shoe retailers Shoefayre and Gilesport,and M&G – one of the largest fund managers in the UK – have all done it. Each has created a bespoke qualification that not only addresses the precise training and learning needs of their workforce, but also has a currency outside the organisation itself, because it is accredited by a national awarding body.
Launching a pledge
Training and development experts predict that many more employers will follow their lead in the wake of the Leitch Review of Skills, published in December. It recommended the launch of a ‘pledge’scheme for employers to voluntarily train eligible employees up to Level 2. The reportalso says that if progress on this front is unsatisfactoryby 2010, a statutory entitlement to training should be introduced, and that there should bemore employer investment in Level 3 and Level 4 qualifications.
“Learning and development directors need to take notice of Leitchand note the consequences of not achieving what we are supposed to by 2010,” says Clare Hannah, learning and development director at transport company First UK Bus. She is leading a project to gain accreditation for a BTEC Level 3 qualification in managing performance excellence with national qualifications awarding body Edexcel (see case study below).
“Bespoke qualifications help you to meet your business needs and see the return on your investment, but you must always start by considering the business need for any learning, who the target audience will be, and what you want to be different in your organisation as a result,” she says.
Hannah has worked closely with one of First UK Bus’ regular training providers, Active Learning and Development, to develop the new BTEC qualification.
This approach has provedsuccessful in the past – the company already has two other bespoke qualifications in operation: a Level 2 NVQin team-leading, and a BTEC Level 3 in advanced leadership.
Both involved taking a national qualification framework and contextualising it to make it relevant to the First UK Bus business. This approach avoids having to write the structure of the qualification and the content of the course, but allows organisations to tailor the case studies and other practical elements to their own needs.
At Active Learning and Development, client director Liz Davis says increasing numbers ofcompanies are seeking the bespoke approach and wanting formal qualifications for their staff.
“Where it’s appropriate, we’d look to leading a programme to a recognised national qualification because it gives employers a national benchmark and added value for the individual because they gain something that has a currency in the wider world of work,” says Davis.
Indentify business need
When developing a bespoke qualification for a client, Davis starts by identifying the business need by consulting all stakeholders – department heads, line managers and potential course candidates, as well as relevant in-house specialists such as finance, health and safety, and HR. Shethen shadows potential candidates to understand the work context of the training, and to ensure the course uses the correct terminology and references current organisational initiatives. This also garners real business data and valuable information for course exercises and case studies.
Davis then designs the course programme and takes the draft course outline to a steering group, typically comprising a cross-section of representatives from the client, for further feedback and ideas. Then comes the pilot stage and, she says, it is at this point in the process that she looks for potential accreditation.
This could involve taking and adapting an existing qualification on the national framework to meet the programme that’s been designed, or developing a centre-devised qualification. This is a service only an approved qualifications centre, registered with a recognised awarding body such as Edexcel, can offer.
A centre-devised qualification means that the course designer -probably in partnership with the client organisation -can specify the level of the qualification. This in turn dictates the number of study hours that the course must contain, and requires a statement of the learning outcomes that candidates would gain, as well as the methods of assessment, to gain accreditation.
Such requirements might make working in partnership with a training or qualifications provider a more attractive proposal than going it alone.
It is possible for an in-house training professional to prepare a qualification for accreditation -indeed, the awarding bodies make guidelines on how to go about it available fromtheir websites, but these can run to several hundreds of pages. Edexcel designed its Employer Solutions service to take the headache out of tailoring qualifications and gaining accreditation for employers.
“We take a lot of the angst out of the process,” says Jim Coyle, Edexcel’s senior business development manager. “Employers are getting more switched on to the idea of bespoke learning and are, we find, happier converting something they are already doing to gain national accreditation.”
Coyle points toTransport for London, for whom Edexcel created two new vocational qualifications aimed at bringing all the drivers, conductors and service controllers working for London’s 24 bus operators up to a level standard.
“The qualifications were based on existing good practice and accredited training that was already taking place,” says Coyle.
He says other employers, such as the Department forWork and Pensions, are undertaking similar exercises, but for different reasons, such as providing staff with transferable skills that will improve their career development now that a job-for-life is no longer a guarantee.
Meet employers’ needs
Professional institutions,includingthe Institute of Directors and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), will also tailor their courses and qualifications to meet employers’ needs.
Recruitment outsourcing business Alexander Mann Solutions had the CIPD tailor its professional development scheme for those of its client-facing account managers and consultants involved in HR resourcing activity, to enhance their credibilityby providing them with qualifications widely recognised in the marketplace.
But how deep do your pockets need to be to afford this tailored approach to learning and qualifications?
Leaving aside the core costs of contracting a training provider to devise a course for you, the cost of pursuing accreditation with a national awarding body could be negligible, possibly just a few hundred pounds.
There will also be, on average, a £1,000 to £2,000 fee for the time it takes the training partner to make the application, but if that provider is an approved qualifications centre, that fee could be much less. The level at which a qualification is pitched could also open up funding avenues.
The Learning and Skills Council’s’Train to Gain’ service provides employers with free access to askills broker, who will identify the skills their business needs, pinpoint the right training programme, agree a tailored trainingpackage, and help access any available funding. Free training is available up to a Level 2 NVQ qualification for staffwith fewer than five GCSEs at grades A-C. Funding is also available for apprenticeships, advanced apprenticeships, and Level 3 NVQs, with employers typically paying aboutone-third of the cost of Level 3 NVQs, equivalent to £500 to £800, while the governmentpays the rest.
Working in partnership with colleges and other providers can also prove cost effective, says CIPD learning, training and development adviser, Eileen Arney.”And there is nothing more expensive than not training people in the skills you need.”
Case study: First UK Bus
In April, the HR community at First UK Bus – the bus division of transport company First Group – will become the first to undertake the company’s newly-accredited BTEC Level 3 qualification in managing performance excellence.
The course, devised by Active Learning and Development and undergoing accreditation with BTEC awarding body Edexcel, is a 30-hour bespoke programme. This involves 16 hours taught over two days plus four hours of self-directed learning and ‘go do’ activities, such as conducting appraisals, setting objectives, devising personal development plans and conducting coaching sessions.
“One of the basic principles of our learning and development strategy is to link learning to a qualification wherever possible,” explains learning and development director, Clare Hannah. “It helps us benchmark the level we are training at, and enables us to put our hands on our hearts and say that people are competent in certain skills at a particular level.”
Accreditation will also lend credibility to the training and motivate employees to complete the course, Hannah asserts. She also believes the bespoke approach is cost-effective. “I get a course designed for me, with the absolute right to change whatever I want, and the additional costs don’t even come into my equation,” she says.
“All it takes is for one or two people to implement their learning, and I have my return on investment.”
By Sarah-Jane North