Tens of thousands of learners across Wales take vocational qualifications every year and for many of them it is a life changing experience.
That’s why we in Qualifications Wales believe it is important to have a clearly defined strategy to review and, where necessary, improve these qualifications.
We want learners to acquire the skills, understanding and knowledge that they really need – and we want employers to be confident that their employees have qualifications that are up-to-date, reliable and properly assessed.
That’s why we have decided to take an in-depth look at vocational qualifications on a sector by sector basis.
We started with health and social care (including childcare) and are moving on to review qualifications in the construction and built environment and ICT sectors.
Later this year we will be publishing our vocational qualifications strategy which explains how we will be continuing with our programme of sector reviews – and it identifies the other sectors we will be looking at over time. These will include engineering, advanced manufacturing and energy; financial services, customer services and retail, and travel and tourism, hospitality and catering.
It’s an ambitious programme of work and one that will take several years to complete. But I’m confident that with goodwill and the co-operation of everyone involved, it can be achieved successfully.
The construction and built environment review is expected to last a year and encompasses a wide and diverse range of careers including carpentry, plumbing, surveying, roofing, bricklaying, electrical work and civil engineering among many others.
We are working closely with the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to make sure the review is accurate and comprehensive. As part of this collaboration we have enlisted Gareth Williams, the Qualifications and Careers Manager with CITB Wales, to work with us as our Construction Sector Advisor on secondment for the duration of the review.
We have also set up stakeholder panels in both north and south Wales and invited a wide range of employers and training providers to gather their views on the range and suitability of qualifications.
And we’re keen to hear the views of learners who are at the sharp end.
The response we have had so far has been extremely encouraging, and there’s a real willingness by those people we have met to fully engage with this project.
I feel enthused by the positive reaction we have received at such an early stage in our review: it’s only through such open and willing engagement that we’ll be able to uncover any issues that need addressing.
During our panel meetings there have already been very open and honest discussions – which is exactly what we want.
We are keen to hear what experts in the sector perceive to be the problems. We’ve asked everyone with an interest to identify any issues that they believe need to be addressed so that we can discuss it fully and examine it intelligently.
For example, several people have already raised questions about the use of modern building materials and the introduction of new technology into the sector, and whether the current range of qualifications adequately reflect the changes that are rapidly taking place.
It may be that qualifications can be brought more up to date - this is just one avenue that we will be investigating as our work progresses.
But we’re not confining our research to official meetings with employers or with learners in the classroom. Over the next few months our teams will go out into the workplace to interview employers and employees about their experiences – whether they are good or bad - and try to identify common issues that need to be examined.
The aim is to interview a broad range of learners, employers, work-based learning providers, universities, further education colleges and schools, among others.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the latest in a series of reviews into the vocational qualifications that are available in different employment sectors in Wales.
The first review reported its findings in July, when it recommended that a new suite of qualifications covering health and social care should be developed. We are now consulting further on details contained in its recommendations.
The aims of the current review into the construction and built environment sector are to:
- develop an understanding of the qualification landscape;
- identify the views of partner organisations on the effectiveness of existing qualifications and the system itself to meet the needs of learners, employers and higher education institutions;
- consider the extent to which the qualifications are technically effective and fit for purpose;
- identify any lessons to be learned from qualifications in other comparable nations;
- decide whether Qualifications Wales should take, or recommend others to take, any actions to improve the effectiveness of qualifications or the system itself.
We’ll make sure that learners have their say through a series of focused discussion groups and interviews, and we’ll run an online consultation to widen the scope of engagement and allow individuals to have their opinions heard. This includes learners who may not be able to attend any of the focus groups but can still provide their own personal experiences online.
The external panels in south and north Wales comprise a group of critical friends from a variety of stakeholder groups who provide us with advice as the review progresses.
We will also look at comparable qualifications abroad to see if any lessons can be learned and good practices adopted here in Wales.
There’s no doubt that vocational qualifications are an important part of the education system in Wales. We are determined to ensure that Welsh learners will gain world class qualifications that are valued and relevant across the UK and beyond.
Further details are available on the Qualifications Wales website – www.qualificationswales.org.