Human resources must get involved with shaping new diplomas

The government may have taken three years to come up with a scheme based on recommendations by former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson to revamp post-14 education. But the announcement last week by schools secretary Ed Balls to introduce a range of skills-based diplomas, which have been billed as a replacement for A-levels, has been broadly welcomed by employers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said in its response that “employers [were] crying out for work-based diplomas like the proposed qualification in engineering”.

On the Department for Children, Schools and Families website, the diplomas are described as “exciting and innovative” and “the most important changes to the education system since the introduction of GCSEs”.

The latter did not herald a more numerate or literate school-leaving population, so employers still need to be convinced the new diplomas will teach kids the basics of maths and English, and “equip them with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need for further or higher education and long-term employability”.

How many human resources departments sigh in despair when they receive applications from school leavers who can’t spell or add up, never mind string a sentence together? And then the onus is on the employer to make up the shortfall. Indeed, training in basic skills may become a legal responsibility for firms if not enough voluntary progress has been made by 2010. This looks increasingly likely after the director of Train to Gain told Personnel Today it would probably fail to hit its long-term targets. So any initiative that helps to bridge the gap between academic and vocational learning is likely to be applauded.

The CBI is already part of the expert advisory group to the government to help shape the new qualifications. However, HR and learning and development professionals must have some serious input in developing these new diplomas to fit the current and future needs of the workplace if they are going to stand any chance of being the “jewel” that Balls promised.

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