McChange of heart: government U-turn opens door to employer-accredited training

News last week that McDonald’s, Flybe and Network Rail have been given the green light to accredit their own training completed a remarkable U-turn by the government.

Only last June, the then education secretary Alan Johnson delivered an unequivocal “no” to the question of whether employers should be allowed to award their own recognised qualifications to employees.

Transferable skills

Johnson said he was unable to see how accrediting employer qualifications would help provide the transferable skills highlighted by the Leitch Review.

This led to howls of protest from business groups – particularly the CBI – which have long been lobbying for such a move. Writing for Personnel Today at the time, Susan Anderson, the CBI’s director of HR policy, said businesses spent £33bn a year on training, but only one-third of that went on training towards a recognised qualification.

“The government should develop a system whereby the high-quality training that is provided by firms can be easily translated into new qualifications,” she wrote.

Change of direction

Weeks later, following the creation of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, along with Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle, new skills secretary John Denham granted the CBI’s wish and announced a change of direction.

He tasked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) with investigating how to end the distinction between vocational training offered by employers and traditional providers. That framework has now been put in place, leading to the ‘McQualifications’ announcement last week.

The move is part of the government’s drive to boost skills and increase labour mobility. A raft of employers are set to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing companies, with government departments and the Prison Service said to be on the road to official ‘awarding body’ status.

But amid all the hype and publicity, some have sounded a note of caution.

People who have learned skills in one workplace often find it difficult to have them recognised elsewhere, according to David Coates, associate director of policy at the Work Foundation think-tank. “Having a formal qualification would help, though it is no guarantee the qualification will be taken seriously,” he said.

However, David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonald’s, rejected accusations that the new system represented a dumbing down of standards.

“The reality is that there is a lot of snobbery out there,” he told Personnel Today.

Nationally recognised

“This is a nationally recognised standard and qualification, which is different in its delivery than just sitting in a classroom. But I would argue that for some people it’s far more relevant as you are having to ‘do’ as well as learn.”

Fairhurst brushed off concerns that the skills learned at one employer might not be transferable. “Employers already recognise our training because they take our staff and want a trained McDonald’s manager,” he said.

How ‘McA-Levels’ will work

The qualifications awarded by McDonald’s and others will be scrutinised by the QCA, and form part of the new Qualifications and Credit Framework.

Staff will learn on the job and be assessed through coursework and exams. They will complete modules to earn credits that can be built up to reach specific academic levels, such as Level 3 (A Level). In the future, the qualifications could even prove to be a route into higher education and be recognised by admissions service Ucas.

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