The case for and against: L&D Accreditation

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Jamie Lawrence
Managing Editor
TrainingZone
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There are plenty of contentious issues in HR and the workplace, and we think it's important to get a balanced discussion going on some of the bigger questions out there. In this series, we'll be asking HR experts and practitioners to give us opposing viewpoints on a key issue, and we welcome your input too! If you would like to take part in the series, get in touch.

FOR

John Williams is Director of Digital Strategy at ILM

Organisations and industries across the UK face a burgeoning skills gap, and there is a growing distinction in the skills employers want and the skills that job seekers have.

According to the CBI, 69% of employers are concerned about not being able to find enough highly-skilled staff, and this figure is increasing annually.

We can begin to close this gap by opening up routes of communication and joining the dots between what learning and development achieves, and how it aligns with what employers are looking for.

Having robust and explicit credentials in place that recognise and verify the skills gained through qualifications or training helps employers unearth the value behind them. They also assist individuals in telling the story behind their own development, and gaining a better understanding of where their skills fit in.

The need for skills recognition in the modern workplace

The way we work is changing. Collaborative environments and flatter organisational structures mean that skills like teamwork, decision-making, and leadership are required for jobs in any sector, department, and at any level.

However, the workplace evolution is exposing gaps; just a third of employers feel confident in their leadership talent pipeline, and stats from UKCES reveal that the UK needs a million more skilled managers by 2020.

This issue is leading to a renewed focus on lifelong learning, beyond vocational development; you probably wouldn’t hire a Head of Finance without an accountancy qualification, so what do you look for in a manager to find someone able to fulfil the requirements of the role, e.g. the ability to motivate employees, flexibility?

Last month the chancellor announced greater investment in skills development for the workplace, and in April the new Apprenticeship Levy comes in, bringing with it the relaxation of prior achievement rules. These changes open up opportunities to upskill people at all levels – regardless of their qualifications, age, or job title – in core competencies like leadership and management that are so crucial to organisational and personal success.

Accreditation can make a huge difference to the value of training. Anyone can make a claim to have done a change management course – but was it for one day, for a year? Who put the course together and ensured that it was fulfilled? Accreditation informs employers about an achieved standard.

And by using new-era digital credentials that allow employers to search and recruit around specific skills, that are proven, question marks are removed from the equation.

The importance of credentials in recognising all kinds of learning

There are a growing number of instances whereby traditional qualifications are inadequate for recognising the skills needed in today’s society.  

Take the gig economy; whether it’s IT professionals developing a new product, or creative minds coming together for a short-term project, teams form, achieve results and disband. Organisations will need to know quickly and reliably that they have assembled the right mix of skillsets, and identify any gaps that need to be filled. Awarding this type of project-based work is important to recognise the achievement and the unique expertise each experience provides.

Similarly, as more people fulfil training programmes in areas like leadership, communication, delegation, and management, it is vital that the time spent – whether in the classroom or in practical workplace application – is measured accurately. Using credentials, individual benefits attained can be accurately identified and rewarded, demonstrating both to the person and employer the value and robustness of the skills achieved in a concrete, communicable way.

By being able to recognise what are sometimes considered intangible skills, employers can recruit and train managers – the role HR professionals find the most difficult to fill – against a standardised, trustworthy benchmark.

Accreditation in a digital world

In today’s world, being able to showcase your capabilities and qualifications online is crucial. Digital credentials are quickly and easily shared across online platforms, helping professionals instantly make their skills and achievements much more visible.

As businesses look to shape training programmes specifically to the needs and requirements of their sector, bridging the UK’s skills gap should become increasingly easy. But if we’re going to successfully future-proof the talent pipeline and ensure the UK has a steady stream of leaders, giving leadership and management training the right accreditation and credentials is going to be critical.

What’s important to validate any competency, is a rigorous assessment and verification process to ensure that people have the skills they say they do, and that these are externally accredited and certified. This is something that digital credentials, with the metadata that sits behind them, readily achieve.

Ultimately, skills are too important to get wrong, and that is why having a corresponding accreditation is so essential.

AGAINST

David Cartwright is founder of CPD-accredited and coaching supported online learning platform OBD Academy

Humans have a psychological need to develop and grow; it’s fundamental to our wellbeing and self-esteem. It’s important in both our personal and professional lives.

We are born unique and with the capacity to do far more than we believe.  If we don’t develop we stagnate, leading to disengagement, which within the workplace benefits neither employee nor employer, let alone the end customers.

Businesses are no different as, through competitive and stakeholder pressure, they also have a primary need to develop and grow. However, organic growth will only occur through the development of people. Of course, we hear of talent shortfalls restricting strategic ambitions, but what’s given less airtime is the lack of thoughtful investment being given to people development. Whilst responsibility for development rests with the individual, accountability for fostering the environment that values development sits with the organisation.

Learning & development is considered discretionary spend; a tap that can be turned on and off depending upon current trading. Organisations might trot out metrics confirming the number of man-hours invested per capita, however, we all know that this rarely infers ‘thoughtful investment’.  In a similar vein, accreditation is often seen as the kite mark of attainment and therefore money well spent. The kite mark may convey a known level of attainment but it certainly doesn’t signal the best development option for your people or your business.

Rather like our education system, accreditation bodies are adept at introducing protocols that ensure quality standards are achieved, but the emphasis is on conformity rather than uniqueness and on theory rather than on practice. Despite record numbers of degree qualified people entering the world of work, we continue to hear of talent shortfalls – confirmation that attainment doesn’t confer ‘fit for purpose’ development.  

Optimising the learner experience

L&D investment can only ever be considered ‘thoughtful investment’ if the interests of the learner are understood and aligned to organisational needs. The following criteria can help promote the optimum learner experience, the most critical component to get right:

  • What are the learner needs and why are these important?
  • Is there a clear projection of how the learner will be post-development?
  • Is the content fit for purpose? Does it stand a chance of delivering?
  • Is the learning modality the best fit for the learner?
  • How will the learning be assessed and supported post development?
  • How will the learning be embedded post-development?   

These criteria comprise the learning journey. No one criterion is more important than the other – collectively they provide the best learner experience possible. Does your organisation ever consider these criteria?   

Role of the sponsoring organisation

As the sponsoring organisation, how do you assess the utility and validity of internal and external L&D programmes? How do you rate against the above criteria? How do you ensure the content, not just the promotional summary is ‘on the money’, is delivered in a manner that encourages engagement and can be leveraged back into the workplace?

Invariably, organisations skip this ‘fit for purpose’ piece believing that if the course title has been accredited to a standard level then all will be well. Have you ever assessed those responsible for setting and monitoring the standards and assessed their ‘fit for purpose’?

Whether you do or do not seek accreditation to support your choice of provider, the most important element of your decision-making must be the quality of the learner journey. If learners become capable of doing more as a result of their learning experience and can embrace their roles with growing confidence, then you’re making the right choice. How many organisations can confidently make such an assessment?

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