Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Skills for the workforce

Yesterday I attended a meeting held by Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds on the strategic direction and development of the libraries, archives and information service workforce. The meeting looked at the development of a Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) for the Libraries, Archives and Information Services (LAIS) workforce and the project to develop National Occupational Standards and a framework of vocational qualifications for this sector.

It's a topic that most of us would regard as important - it deals with fundamental questions for both individuals and organisations such as what skills do people need? How do we get those skills? How are those skills recognised?

At the same time it is a complex issue and we are faced with organisations, projects and qualifications that seem to change constantly. It's no wonder that we get confused!

Here is my stab at an idiots guide.

What is Lifelong Learning UK?
LLUK is one of 25 Sector Skills Councils under the Skills for Business programme. The aim of LLUK is to ensure that lifelong learning employers can recruit, retain and develop highly skilled and effective staff.

Sorry - what do you mean by "lifelong learning employers"?
This term covers all organisations working in community learning & development, further education, higher education, work-based learning and libraries, archives & information services. Its a broad and diverse group which you could say has just lumped together several different sectors but there is a common purpose that links them together. LLUK replaces the old Information Services National Training Organisation (isNTO)

So what does LLUK do?
Well the first thing it is doing is to develop a Sector Skills Agreement (SSA)

A what?
An SSA is an agreement between employers and government that will ensure that the workforce has the right skills in the right places at the right time. It identifies current and future skills gaps and works with partners to fill these gaps. Our SSA will ensure that the UK's lifelong learning sector has the skilled workforce it needs to increase productivity and improve service delivery.

And what does that mean for libraries, archives and information services?
The research and consultation with the LAIS sector is underway but certain skills issues have been identified for the sector. These include:
The identification of specific LAIS technical skills such as cataloguing, collections management, information retrieval, conservation & preservation.
The identification of specific ICT skills such as digitisation, management of metadata, ICT systems development.
The need for customer engagement skills in order to establish user needs and provide support and guidance.
The need to develop a new generation of library leaders through management skills, strategic leadership, advocacy and project management.

In the discussions yesterday a number of themes emerged. It was felt that the existing structure for delivering LAIS technical skills (i.e. through library school trained staff) worked well but there was a need for consistent updating. ICT developments impacted on almost all areas and there was a pressing need for more people with the appropriate skills in the workforce. There was a pressing need for inter-personal skills/customer engagement skills and also for leadership skills at all levels e.g. all staff should be able to promote the library service to users and management. One feature of the LAIS workforce is the age profile which means that a high proportion of experienced staff will be retiring in the next 10 years. It may also mean that staff are not keen on training and CPD as they are approaching retirement. It was argued that all staff in the lifelong learning sector should have a personal commitment to lifelong learning. One way of helping to achieve this is to make sure that all learning and skills development is recognised by the gaining of vocational qualifications. This would help all staff gain promotion or a new job and would ensure that they are still qualified to continue in their current post.

In my next post on this meeting I will look at the development of a new framework of vocational qualifications.

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