How I made a difference: introducing NVQs

Attracting, developing and retaining contact centre and retail employees is as tough a challenge as delivering a consistently great customer experience. Identifying ways to unlock people’s true potential, reducing barriers to learning, and encouraging individuals to aspire and achieve has gone a long way in helping our business continue to succeed.

Three years ago, I suggested that our business made a greater investment in our front-line people by helping them gain professional recognition for their skills. Staff surveys suggested that many wanted access to gain qualifications. I also believed that such schemes would help attract new people into our contact centres and stores.

I approached the Learning Skills Council for support and discussed my ideas with managers and their teams across the business. It was clear that many employees wanted to gain higher qualifications, but did not really want to sit exams or attend college. I designed and developed an NVQ pilot with 200 employees in one of our contact centres. Working with a third-party assessment company, our own trainers remained focused on delivering training, while assessors worked with our business to look at ways to accredit the skills that were being developed and practiced.

I was sceptical at first, but soon discovered that both managers and advisers enjoyed the programme. For some of our staff, an NVQ provided the first opportunity to gain a qualification since leaving school or college.

Since the programme started, staff have gained more than 5,000 qualifications, recognising their skills in sales, customer services, IT, team leading and management. Many employees have progressed on to higher qualifications, such as professional body awards, and some are being supported through academic courses up to and including degrees.

Last year the programme was expanded across all the UK retail stores, resulting in higher staff retention rates and improved staff experience survey scores. Business improvement is also evident, with increased sales in many of the flagship stores.

In October, the programme won the 2008 People in Retail national training and development award.

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