UK: BIM Sounding Board - Competence gets its reward.

UK: BIM Sounding Board - Competence gets its reward. - Too often qualifications have been awarded on the basis of academic learning rather than demonstrated competence.

by Roger Dawe, director-general of the Training Directorate ofthe Department of Employment.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Too often qualifications have been awarded on the basis of academic learning rather than demonstrated competence.

On 16 October 1991, at the Management Charter Initiative's (MCI) National Conference in Manchester, Robert Jackson, then parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department of Employment, presented the first English National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in management. This followed the award of the first Scottish Vocational Qualifications in January. The existence of NVQs in management is a major step in the revolution in qualifications.

Too often in this country, qualifications have been awarded on the basis of academic learning rather than demonstrated competence at work. Also the structure of vocational qualifications has been such that it has been unclear what equated to what or how progression to higher levels of achievement could be made.

NVQs are changing much of that. The foundation of the system is the definition of competence-based occupational standards defined by employers through the Employment Department's standards programme. They set out clearly what employees need to be able to do to perform effectively in their jobs. They also represent best practice and can therefore be used to improve standards of performance.

Qualifications based on occupational standards have several advantages. They provide an assurance that a qualified individual is able to achieve in the workplace the standards needed in his or her occupational area. They make it possible for individuals (and employers) to obtain qualifications by a variety of routes, including mixing on and off the job training and accumulating credits towards a qualification over a period of time. With five levels of NVQs, progression to higher levels of competence is clearly signposted. By the end of 1992, 80% of all employees will be covered by the NVQ framework up to level four. Well qualified managers can give a lead to the rest of the workforce in taking their own development seriously. The work of the MCI in developing a framework of competence-based management qualifications is well under way.

The MCI was established about three years ago to improve the quantity and quality of British management training and development. Its success has been due in no small part to the support it has received from major employers and from BIM. As well as drawing up a code of good practice regarding management development - a code now subscribed to by over 1,000 employers, among them many of the leading private and public sector organisations in the UK - MCI is the industry-led body for management and supervision. Thus it had the responsibility for developing competence-based standards for managers at all levels. MCI chose to start at the middle levels - first-line and middle management - where the need was greatest.

The competence-based standards for first-line and middle managers were published in autumn 1990. They were based on what several thousand managers did and needed to be able to do to achieve best practice. While the standards have many uses, the development of qualifications based on them was a priority. Work began at first-line manager level and guidelines for qualifications at certificate level were published last year. The response has been encouraging. The challenge to providers was considerable: not only had programmes to focus on outputs rather than inputs, but more flexible approaches to learning methods were needed. Awarding bodies had to feel sure that the competence-based approach did not undermine standards.

Given the nature of the change, it is a significant achievement that three awarding bodies - Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC), the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and the Institute of Industrial Managers - have now received NCVQ accreditation at level four for certificates in management based on the MCI standards. The advantages of the NVQ approach are increasingly apparent. It is already making it possible for experienced managers to obtain qualifications which reflect their existing competence without wasting time undergoing formal training in skills they already possess. The Employment Department is securing these advantages for its own managers: we have introduced a BTEC certificate and diploma in management based on the MCI standards and this is attracting much interest. We are also using the standards to develop a new framework for annual reporting. A number of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) are also setting up similar provision for their own staff.

There is still some way to go before the revolution in qualifications is complete. MCI has developed standards for supervisors, and is piloting their incorporation into appropriate qualifications.

Work on competence-based qualifications for strategic managers is in its infancy and will be challenging. Employers will also continue to encourage managers to enhance their performance and individual managers will continue to benefit from coaching and the opportunity afforded by off-the-job courses for reflection on what they do. But I have no doubt that the new framework of competence-based management qualifications is making a major contribution to upgrading the skills of British managers which is so important for our country's prosperity.

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