Skills passport promises career structure for land workers

The challenge

Working as a groom in the equestrian business is a particularly tough, physical challenge. Hard work and long days leave little time or energy to pursue formal, classroom-based qualifications – especially if the grooms donit see any immediate benefit after they have achieved them.

At the same time, employers want staff who will make a positive difference to their business. For some, that means recognised qualifications, but for most employers in equine, environmental and land-based industries, it is an employee’s practical experience that makes them most valuable. A worker who can demonstrate that they have the practical skills that an employer needs will be more employable than another whose capabilities are not formally set out.

There are some nationally recognised industry qualifications, such as NVQ Level 2 in Horse Care or a British Horse Society qualification, but the demands of the job mean many grooms are reluctant to study for them.

In this situation, with demand for staff exceeding supply in the job market, grooms who are not willing to take formal qualifications won’t experience too many problems getting a job, but career progression may be harder to achieve.

The problem for both employers and workers in environment and land-based industries is that it is difficult to demonstrate experience.

The solution

To help employers, employees and volunteers map these skills, the Sector Skills Council Lantra has devised an online competence framework, which recognises and records practical experience and achievements. It is a formal demonstration that a worker has the experience and skills needed for paid employment. It can also be used to identify personal development needs and opportunities for progression.

By using a simple tick-box approach, individuals assess their own skills based on industry-defined job role skills and national occupational standards. They are then endorsed by their employers, or formally assessed. Qualifications are mapped into each industry job role, so individuals gain recognition for their qualifications against the actual job they do.

As a framework designed for recording achievement, individuals can record qualifications and build up a comprehensive CV. If they are looking to gain further skills and competence, then the framework provides the individual with details and signposts for specific courses.

Another issue in the equine sector is that, until now, there has been no dedicated association to support grooms and similar workers. Thanks to support from Lantra, the British Grooms Association will be launched in March 2007 to provide the vital support and skills training that those working in the industry deserve.

To support this new association’s objective, Lantra is adapting its online competence framework to a paper-based version more suitable to those not accustomed to working in an office environment or using computers.

In the same way as the online competence framework measures experience, this paper-based “skills passport” will identify four levels of groom competence. Employers will certify grooms’ level of achievement as long as they themselves are of a certain standard. This standard will raise the expectations and qualifications of grooms through recognition of their practical skills in a structured way.

The Equine Grooms Skills Passport will be launched nationally in March, at the same time as the British Grooms Association.

Employer benefits

Equestrian employers running busy, commercial yards will be able to harness the experience and capabilities of their workers more effectively, reducing the risk of assuming that employees possess certain skills and experience which they don’t, which could be dangerous in such a volatile environment.

Employers will also be able to capitalise on skills that grooms have learned elsewhere. According to Lucy Katan, a volunteer with the British Equestrian Foundation – the driving force behind the British Grooms Association – this is what the industry has been demanding for a long time. The skills passport will also help to identify gaps in a worker’s experience so that an employer can offer the relevant skills training, to the benefit of all.

This new association will give grooms the professional support that many have lacked in the past, and offer opportunities for professional development to those grooms who have traditionally been reluctant to work towards formal qualifications, through a practical route designed by Lantra.

Katan says: “Recognising skills is especially important in this sector. Many yards will not employ grooms if they can’t demonstrate their practical ability to work with horses – never mind what paper qualifications they produce.

“You can’t sit in a formal lesson and learn how to catch a bolting horse; that knowledge only comes with direct experience gained over time. The ‘skills passport’ will help grooms demonstrate their skills to employers, and allow them to collate the evidence into a formal pack.”

Key facts

1 There are between 6,000 and 8,000 businesses that are directly related to the equine industry, supporting 50,000 to 80,000 employees.

2 In agriculture, fewer than 25% of business owners have formal qualifications, but the average length of service is 16 years, in which time many skills will have been acquired.

3 The Equine Grooms Skills Passport will be launched nationally in March 2007, alongside the British Grooms Association.

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