Experience is key to getting a job. But qualifications are equally (and occasionally more) important in many roles – this was borne out by a show of hands around the room when asked whether they needed a qualification for their current role.
Andy Lancaster led off, quoting research from a recent Financial Times article which said to demonstrate that if the Government invested £2,000 each in low skilled employees by paying employers to train them, it would be cost neutral…
Do qualifications matter?
There are some negatives – questions about rigour and cost, value to the learner, whether they test the right things, they are only a snapshot and are soon outdated in a fast-moving world. There are many positives though: they support competency, create self-confidence, demonstrate a commitment to improvement and add value in breaking into new career paths.
Andy gave ten reasons why he thinks qualifications are important:
1. Learners are our priority – so support personal progression
2. Improve staff engagement and reward
3. Useful in comprehensive learning programme design
4. Create clear organisational role performance expectations
5. Common experience in “silo-ed” or dispersed organisations
6. Opportunities for social learning and relationship building
7. Support objective competency-based assessments and appraisals
8. Key factor in demonstrating quality audits
9. Differentiates an “employer of choice”
10. Supports organisational recognition and accreditation
We then heard from Martin Walder from SSP UK, who are food operators in railway stations and airports, operating 600 units from 150 locations – they own Caffe Ritazza and Millie’s Cookies and operate various franchises including M&S Food, KFC and Starbucks. They certainly are not a one-size-fits-all company! They have different training standards to meet between brands and then SSP-specific content. They also have a wide geographic spread from small coffee shops in Truro to a 24/7 London hub.
Accreditation is felt to be really important at SSP. They see it as a point of differentiation that helps them retain staff. Nationally recognised qualifications give an employee – often in a long hours, low paid environment – something “over and above” and have resulted in a big improvement in engagement and retention.
The process they have been through has required them to work with various partners:
– Pearsons – who helped SAP map apprenticeship qualifications to Edexcel standards
– ICQ provided structured assessment
– Coventry University accredited qualifications, via their commercial arm Acua
– notgoingtouni.co.uk and Springboard 21 – helped them engage young people
SSP started apprenticeships four years ago with a group of fifty from across the UK. An “embedded model” was developed, which meant taking the training they were already doing and mapping it to national standards. This wasn’t too much work – they had to tick boxes such as health and safety anyway so it was straightforward. However, it didn’t provide evidence. This was their battle with frontline managers – “we’re not asking you to do anything different”, but they. Said “now we have to sit in front of a computer and upload photos etc”. Managed to get them on side. Now have a portfolio of qualifications for frontline members at Level 2. They then went on to Level 3 for supervisors and mapped those.
What learning did they get from all this? Martin said number one was “Take your time”. Suddenly everyone was demanding to do it in their areas. As part of the funding requirements, you need to be able to demonstrate you are providing learning to all – but “the floodgates opened” and the L&D team started to struggle. Delivering an accredited apprenticeship programme also means you need to undergo an OFSTED inspection.
Their blended learning approach covered:
– articles and exercises
– e-learning modules
– On the job activity and reflection
This raised some challenges – a lot of their workforce have English as a second language and/or have never written a 1500 word paper so they needed additional support. SSP revisited the assessment process and built in more professional conversations. They then built a series of learning pathways on their internal L&D module which helped individuals track their qualification and also the hours they have spent learning.
For management level training programmes, they had to work with external providers and experienced some challenges with accreditation – they needed to demonstrate to their university partners that both their internal and external delivered could meet the required standard.
Other key learning points were:
– there are some challenges around the bureaucracy, the need to tick boxes – it is difficult to balance what’s commercially viable and meeting all the standards
– OFSTED assessments are on the same framework as schools and colleges – so their terminology is not “fit for purpose” in the commercial world
– differing levels of academic needs can be a challenge – professional discussions, recorded on video, are essential
– engaging operational teams was initially challenging but as soon as there were success stories, it took off
What benefits have there been?
– retention is 20% higher in those who have been through the apprenticeship scheme
– internal fill rates – it’s early days but there are success stories here already
– motivation and engagement – a lot of this is (necessarily) anecdotal but some of the stories have been brilliant and they now have team members acting as ambassadors for the programme
There have been some other unforeseen positive spin offs, such as the L&D team getting trained and qualified to mark academic assessments, which has been a big positive for their development.
I found this session really useful, primarily because my organisation is doing something very similar at the moment! However, both Andy and Martin are clearly passionate about what they do and that always goes a long way. Unfortunately the room became a bit too warm, it was the last session of the day and perhaps some thoughts were turning towards battling the Tube strike challenges to get home, but most people seemed interested and engaged right to the end, as I was. It was perhaps quite a specific interest but a very practical one and we were given some very practical points to take away.