Just three weeks into 2016 and I have already had a number of approaches from individuals that have claimed to be qualified in a range of interesting areas within the intelligence and security sector. When looking further into these “qualifications”, on each and every occasion I was to find that they were not in fact qualifications as described, but internally badged accreditations for various courses attended. Whilst recognising that these individuals are clearly competent and at no point was I being deliberately deceived, this again raised the argument that qualifications are both misunderstood and undervalued across UK industry.

The culture of course accreditation is of growing concern to many working within the vocational training and education sector. Accredited courses, whether self-accredited or even those badged by professional bodies, simply do not have the same level of rigour associated with regulated qualifications. Yes, course content and learning aims may have been reviewed by an approved or respected industry partner, yet where is the continued monitoring of standards and measure of competence which is surely essential to all training. Rarely is there the same level of quality assurance applied to delivery and assessment of an accredited qualification linked directly to an organisation’s needs. In many cases there may well be no formal assessment, or on occasions where there is an assessment a pass mark can be as low as 40%. In vocational areas like health and safety, safeguarding children or health care, the fact that the person has attended a course and achieved a certificate of competence, whilst only demonstrating half of the things deemed critical to that role, cannot be and should not be acceptable.

This raises the obvious question that if a course was so effective, then surely it would be mapped to an official qualification? Why is this not the case?, in short because delivering a qualification involves additional expense, a more rigorous audit process and includes the risk of letting a client know that they did not meet the required standard. It is easier, yet easier does not mean better.

Non-qualification accreditation of courses has become big business. All kinds of Professional Bodies and even a number of Awarding Bodies are now charging thousands of pounds to training companies for the use of their badge, with statements like, this course is based on national occupational standards. Whilst this may be an effective marketing strategy, it continually dilutes the integrity of training and assessment.

Many argue, and I am inclined to agree, that non-qualification accreditations are in response to industry demand. Training budgets have been consistently reduced and organisations can no longer afford to release staff for longer periods to undertake qualifications. They still have the same legislative requirements to provide training, yet focus is often on minimum compliance, rather than personal development and long term capacity building.

Return on investment is critical across all areas of business. We always talk about metrics for return on investment in relation to marketing, supply chain or logistical expenditure. Yet when it comes to training, how many companies even consider return on investment. For many, training has become an inconvenience associated with remaining compliant. This is a primary indicator that the fundamental principles of learning have been forgotten. When employees achieve a properly regulated qualification, an employer has a clear metric of the new knowledge and skills that the individual can bring back and apply within their organisation.

This industry demand has led to the rise of the online learning platform. Again, there are a plethora of online courses claiming to be accredited, many allowing you to print your certificate on completion. Being from a public sector background, I know that all of our training went this way a number of years ago, yet I would struggle to find any of my former colleagues that would claim to have learned anything from one of these online learning platforms. Indeed, the typical approach was to click through as quickly as possible, apply a small pinch of common sense on the final test (if there was one) and if really struggling, apply the good old process of elimination until the correct answer was found.

I do not disagree that in some cases, awareness training is sufficient, and for this an accreditation is well suited. Yet, it has become the norm, when it should be by exception. When we expect an individual to be able to make decisions, implement policies and perform skills, then surely by putting that individual through a regulated qualification is the only method in which we can have complete confidence.

Yes industry wants quicker and cheaper training, but surely this is an opportunity for us to develop more innovative ways of delivering qualifications, rather than sacrificing the integrity of the UK’s vocational education sector. Ultimately, the cost of inadequate training is far greater over the long term than investment in the appropriate qualifications now.

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