How to get NVQs on track

NVQs really make a difference to business? Alstom Transport training adviser
Kay Potter thinks so, and here she gives us an inside view on how to conquer
the traditional resistance to vocational training

Transport Service, Eastleigh – the UK’s renovation centre-of-excellence for
complete vehicles – is no stranger to change. From the early years as British
Rail through the days with Wessex Traincare and now as a major renovation
facility for Alstom, Alstom Transport Service, Eastleigh, continues to provide
specialist support for the after-market needs of railway rolling stock
customers in the UK.

Eastleigh site has gained a reputation for the skills, expertise and specialist
facilities it provides for the heavy overhaul, repair and refurbishment of
railway carriages, bogies and components.

is a world-leader in the energy and transport infrastructure markets, with a
presence in 60 countries, and employs over 160,000 people. The company is
organised into six sectors – Power, Transmission & Distribution, Transport,
Power Conversion, Contracting and Marine.

Transport Service is the UK’s largest independent train repair  provider, employing more than 2,500 people
in 25 locations.


the restructuring of Alstom Eastleigh in 1999 and the requirements for a more
flexible, multi-skilled and empowered workforce, a flatter organisation was
created with the elimination of superintendent, foreman and charge-hand grades
and the creation of area manager and team leader roles.

aim of the new structure was to create more flexible, self-sufficient teams
made up of a variety of skills, which encourage increased productivity and

teams were divided by skill base, such as vehicle builders, painters, fitters,
and electricians, which resulted in a lack of flexibility and slow turnaround

centres were held for the selection of team leaders and area managers into the
newly created positions, and in order to ensure the new management structure
operates both consistently and effectively, “One Step Beyond” was designed
comprising of the following elements:
– Personal development plans
– Mentoring
– Coaching
– Training department
– National Vocational
– Qualifications
– Team leader programme


development plans were issued to all team leaders at the commencement of the
programme with the aim of encouraging self-learning and analysing future
development needs. 

and coaching programmes were designed to support the classroom-based
training.  Senior managers were trained
in mentoring skills and allocated two to three team leaders each, with whom
they now meet on a monthly basis.

area managers were trained in coaching skills and were encouraged to identify
and fill gaps in the programme content by assisting in the transfer of learning
from the classroom to the daily routine in the workplace.

role is to co-ordinate, support, encourage, design, deliver and evaluate the
programme on a continual basis.

level 3 management?

experience and formal education of the newly appointed team leaders varies
considerably. Some of them have been employed in supervisory positions with the
company for over 30 years and have attended many management development courses
in their time.

are newly appointed supervisors in their mid-20s with very little previous
management training.

NVQ3 in management was considered the most appropriate qualification to meet the
varying needs of the target population because:

It is flexible – team leaders together with their line manager can select which
units are most relevant.  They then
receive credits and certification towards the whole NVQ

It is vocational, based on the real working environment.  There are no theoretical assignments which
may have demotivated those with limited formal education

Underpinning knowledge is linked to the classroom-based training and team
leaders attend these sessions according to their individual needs

the ides of NVQs

of One Step Beyond were initially given to the senior management team and the
unions. Following commitment from these stakeholders and formal training in
mentoring and coaching skills for the management team, the programme was
communicated to all team leaders.

reaction to most aspects of the programme was very positive, except
unfortunately to the discussion of accreditation of the programme to NVQs.


leaders began to relay their experiences and interpretations of NVQs, which had
largely been gained from a failed project of NVQ implementation by an external
provider in the early 1990s. Stories were relayed of how some team leaders had
spent hundreds of hours building three to four large ringbinders full of
evidence only to find the assessor criticising the relevance of the information
and demanding more.

considerable lack of guidance and communication had meant team leaders running
in all directions and achieving very little. In summary, the experience of the
group had largely meant lots of effort with very little reward and not a single
certificate in sight – not a good start for the implementation of One Step
Beyond! Naturally, team leaders were very wary of yet another initiative
involving the dreaded NVQ.


with a lot of perseverance and a positive frame of mind on my part, all team
leaders were invited to attend a comprehensive induction. In this session, much
time was spent outlining the changes that had occurred with NVQs over the past
five years, the simplification of the portfolio building process and the format
of the assessment system.

was put on the fact that it is the managerial competency of the team leaders
that is being assessed and not the team leaders’ ability to build a portfolio
of evidence.

initial negativity towards the qualification, two-thirds of the team leaders
had registered for the NVQ by the end of the one-week “thinking time” allowed.
Although all team leaders were encouraged to register, this was by no means

drop-in Sessions

registration, the team leaders were invited to attend weekly drop-in sessions
held on Tuesday mornings. The first few weeks were critical in encouraging and
motivating team leaders further and in providing guidance on how to build a

sessions became more informal and the group was encouraged to share their
experiences and progress with their colleagues as well as myself on a
one-to-one basis. The peer support within these group sessions was invaluable
in promoting the qualification and encouraging each other towards completion.


mentoring relationship (as mentioned above) played an integral part in the
success of the initiative. Although mentors were not experts in the standards
and criteria for the NVQ, they played an important part in maintaining
enthusiasm and showing commitment from senior management towards the team
leaders’ development.


one-to-one sessions with the team leaders were held as and when required, and
this was perhaps another key aspect in the success of the project. The
flexibility and consistency of having an assessor on site ensured regular
communication with the team leaders and prevented irrelevant and unnecessary
evidence being produced. It also helped keep people motivated.


development of the NVQ has seen a number of labour-saving techniques since its
inception. Rising in popularity is the concept of the ‘paperless portfolio’. In
reality this is hopeful thinking on the part of the candidate and almost
certainly more work for the assessor as the evidence has to be recorded

the ability to tape interviews with the team leaders and record this as
evidence of underpinning knowledge has certainly contributed to the successful
completion of the qualification mainly because it reduces the paperwork for the

towards units

order to ensure the qualification met the needs of the team leader instead of
the team leaders meeting the needs of the qualification, the programme
encouraged the candidates to work towards relevant units and receive credits
towards the qualification. Certificates can be issued for each completed unit,
thus motivating some towards the qualification in total. However, most of the
team leaders were keen to go the whole way to completing the NVQ.


programme was introduced in-between contracts ensuring that time was available
for initial teething problems early on. Timing is critical in such a project,
particularly in a production environment where priorities tend to fall in line
with output.

so far

summary, the introduction of the NVQs at Alstom Transport Service, Eastleigh has
worked well, probably for a number of reasons:

We were able to counter the initial negativity from every angle by integrating
senior and middle management with the training department in support of the
team leader development programme, One Step Beyond

  1. The on-going support and
    encouragement at all levels had undoubtedly helped the less motivated team
    leaders to continue

is early days, but the programme is certainly opening doors for communication
of business issues, encouraging more consistency in first level management and
assisting in the push to drive all management levels in the same direction.

Potter has just taken up a post as training and development officer at Pirelli

tips for NVQ success

Overcome objections and discuss past experiences before moving on

Initial and ongoing support from middle and senior management is vital to
success, this has to be visible

Put it into context – why is the organisation supporting NVQs?

On-site assessors provide quick answers and are available for continual support
and guidance to suit the candidate

Peer support sessions help to maintain enthusiasm and encourage learning

Reduce paperwork wherever possible – always make it relevant to the candidate

Offer the qualification in terms of units if this is more relevant to the

Ensure the qualification is launched in the right climate – timing is everything

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