Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Vocational Qualifications

I will carry on with my report of the Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) meeting that I began yesterday. Today I will extend my "idiots guide" to the new framework of vocational qualifications for the libraries, archives and information services (LAIS) workforce.

What are vocational qualifications?
Qualifications can be divided into three types: academic qualifications which we gain by study at university and college, professional qualifications which are awarded by professional bodies such as CILIP and vocational qualifications which are awarded for the skills we learn at or for work. There is a great deal of overlap between these types, for example you can only get the professional qualification of MCLIP if you have an academic degree. And many university degrees are vocational. Also qualifications come at different levels. In the past the skills you learnt in you job were often not recognised or accredited so that someone with a 10-year old BA was regarded as more qualified than someone with GCSEs but who had worked for 10 years.

What is LLUK's role?
Create new National Occupational Standards for the LAIS workforce
Design new sector frameworks of vocational qualifications for the LAIS workforce
Improve progression opportunities
Represent employer views

And what are National Occupational Standards?
National Occupational Standards (NOS) define areas of competence (or skill-sets) required in an occupation or job role i.e. the combination of skills, knowledge and understanding that an individual needs to perform effectively in a job. They describe the key activities undertaken in a range of tasks e.g. "Solve problems for customers" or "Issue and recover loan material". If you want more information go to the UK Standards website.
Standards are developed with sector participation, apply across the whole of the UK and provide the benchmarks for vocational qualifications.

How exactly are these being developed?
LLUK has contracted Angela Abell, Liz MacLachlan and Sara Ward of SAL Associates to work with staff at LLUK on the development of new National Occupational Standards for the LAIS workforce. The plan is to combine the three existing and separate sets of NOS inherited from the former Information Services National Training Organisation (isNTO) into one integrated standards framework. The drafting of the new standards has begun and there will be a programme of nine consultation events throughout the UK during April - May 2007 followed by electronic consultation via the LLUK website during June. It is anticipated that the work will be completed over the summer.

So how do NOS relate to vocational qualifications?
NOS provide the benchmark for developing vocational qualifications. Qualifications will be built from units which will cover the elements identified by the NOS.

What will these Vocational Qualifications look like?
Individuals will gain a qualification by amassing credits accumulated from core, optional and elective units. They will be able to gain credits in a variety of different ways including the accreditation of workplace CPD. They should have a strong emphasis on developing skills, knowledge and understanding and not just on auditing existing skills.

Aren't we talking about NVQs?
There is a consensus of opinion in the profession that NVQs have not been a success. There has been a low level of take-up for LAIS NVQs for a number of reasons: availability was limited; progression opportunities were limited (LIS NVQs were only available to level 3); there was a lack of awareness and enthusiasm by both staff and employers; they were perceived as expensive, too narrow and too process-oriented. These new Vocational Qualifications are intended to remedy these faults.

You mention the problem of NVQs being limited to level 3. Will the new structure deal with this?
As part of government strategy to increase participation in higher education a new vocational qualification has been introduced at level 4/5 called a Foundation Degree. LLUK is holding discussions with providers and the professional bodies to agree a model of what foundation degrees in our sector should look like, how they should relate to the National Occupational Standards and the body of professional knowledge and how employers can be involved in their development. For more information go to the Foundation Degree Forward website

So will this new framework for vocational qualifications work?
A good question! There has not been a good take up of NVQs for a variety of reasons. LLUK has looked at those reasons and is trying to deal with the problems in the new framework. However it comes down to whether individuals and employers embrace this new structure. How enthusiastic are library staff, especially at the library assistant levels, about gaining vocational qualifications? It comes down to a basic change of attitude. Most people accept that they need a certain qualification in order to get a job but then think that the job is theirs for life or until they change jobs. But as things are changing rapidly we need to be constantly learning new things and to gain qualifications to show this. If you don't get new vocational qualifications then you are no longer qualified for the job. Employers need to be prepared to invest in staff development and encourage staff to gain vocational qualifications. I feel that many employer have managed to demotivate staff and turn them against self development by showing a complete lack of interest. Yes they may "send people on courses" but do they show any interest in the outcome or enable staff to put new ideas into practice?

Employers also need to engage with the consultation process to ensure that the framework does provide what they need. It is not unknown for organisations to sack professional librarians because the skills of librarians are not what they need. (This has happened in commercial companies but is also known in academic institutions and even local authorities). It is important therefore that the organisation as a whole - not just the librarians within this organisation - gets involved in this process. They need to tell LLUK what skills they want from their staff and hopefully they will also learn what librarians can contribute to their organisation.

Further information about LLUK can be found on their website.

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