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More funding for vocational qualifications

20 Jun 12 CITB-ConstructionSkills has increased the funding it offers to students of vocational qualifications to encourage more uptake.

Nick Gooderson of CITB-ConstructionSkills
Nick Gooderson of CITB-ConstructionSkills

The news comes on VQ Day, a national celebration of vocational qualifications for students, teachers and employers.

Here, Nick Gooderson, head of education and research at CITB-ConstructionSkills looks at incentives, the current framework and the evolution of VQs.

Vocational qualifications (VQs) are playing an increasingly important role in our industry as we work to develop the skilled workforce we need. As part of our commitment to VQs we have reviewed CITB-ConstructionSkills training grants, and will be implementing a substantial increase from £275 to £400 for achievement awards.  VQ grants at level five will also jump from £525 to £650.

The measure is yet another ‘carrot’ that we hope will encourage further uptake of VQs in the industry as a means of both up-skilling  the  existing workforce and equipping  the latest entrants with the skills they need to build a successful career. As the Sector Skills Council and Industry Training Board it’s hardly surprising that we champion training and upskilling in general but we devote just as much attention to making sure that the type and quality of training matches industry needs. CITB-ConstructionSkills is an ardent advocate of VQs. They have proved their worth, and are at the heart of construction’s educational offering. From schools right through to Higher Educations VQs have been the staple that employers have relied upon to judge ability. They are used by our industry card schemes to recognise levels of competence and are the foundation of all our apprenticeships and diplomas.

VQs are not simply established qualifications useful to industry because of their familiarity, they are evolving and being moulded in anticipation of and in response to the constantly changing demands being made of the industry. For the last 12 months, for example, we have been working closely with industry and government to further develop their Qualification Credit Framework to prepare for the launch of the Green Deal later this year. This has involved identifying gaps in the exiting offering and putting together units of existing VQs and new programmes to help those keen to exploit the opportunities there will be by developing new skills in good time.

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To ensure that we are providing what the industry wants, we recently undertook an extensive Skills Strategy Review, consulting widely with industry about the skills and aptitude that qualifications ought to produce to meet industry’s immediate and long term needs. The feedback from the industry around the question of competence reinforced our determination to make sure that VQs that are more than just a ‘good to have’ qualification and give employers confidence about the knowledge and ability of the people they employ. The whole training offering and VQs in particular must continue to widen their scope to ensure that they reflect new areas of growth and development in the industry.

It’s not enough to know, for instance that someone can operate machinery. As an employer, you need to be confident that they will consider other things such as behaving responsibly with expensive equipment, being mindful of the immediate environment, thinking ahead and making connections about how the work impacts on others. This ‘behavioural competence’ is not currently reflected in qualifications but is of great importance to employers which is why we will be working with industry and educationalists to incorporate it into VQs.

Along with practical and behavioural competence VQs have a critical role to play in helping to reduce the number of accidents that happen on site. The joint CITB ConstructionSkills/HSE “Routes to Competence” report identified a number of key areas where most accidents occur in construction. These include:  manual handling, working at height, around machinery and vehicles and ill health awareness. To help tackle this head on, we’re looking to develop units for a VQ or a single VQ that directly addresses these issues which, we hope, will become a compulsory component in standard construction qualifications. Talks are underway with CSCS to see how this is can be implemented and incorporated into the existing card scheme.

Another important development is the work that we’re doing with government on qualification provisions for UTCs and Studio Schools. While ConstructionSkills’ Principal Learning qualification (the main component of the much-valued Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment) was one of only 5 qualifications that met government criteria in its review of VQs, we are working with them to on an alternative framework of smaller components that are the equivalent to 1 GCSE. This will help to standardise existing VQs and map them more accurately against academic benchmarks.  We’ve also developed a framework for a Higher Apprenticeship in Construction Management which will put VQs on a par with academic qualifications at a higher level.

It’s clear that huge changes are underway and VQs are being reshaped and remoulded in to meet ever changing industry need and suit the new world. It is that flexibility and constant adaptation that keeps VQs relevant and ultimately valuable to employers and critical to the overall growth and success of the industry.

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