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The recent Leitch Report highlighted the extent of the skills problem, which has steadily worsened over the last two decades. According to the report, the UK currently has about 75% of the population of working age actually in employment.

Edwina McQueen, head of City & Guilds Business Unit, discusses how qualifications are being recognised by businesses as an important lever to maintain competitiveness and efficiency.

The recent Leitch Report highlighted the extent of the skills problem, which has steadily worsened over the last two decades. According to the report, the UK currently has about 75% of the population of working age actually in employment. Economists argue that we need employment levels to raise to 80% by 2012 to meet skills needs. Due to a declining birth-rate, some 600,000 fewer 15-24 year olds will be preparing to enter the workforce in 2020 than in 2010, so meeting our employment aspirations will require reaching out to more than seven million adults (13% of the population) who are currently economically inactive and, importantly for employers, upskilling existing staff.
It is this challenge of ‘upskilling’ that leaves so many employers cold – where do you start when every employee has varying skills requirements and competency levels? What qualifications are suitable for the business? How will training contribute to the bottom line? It’s these questions that led to the establishment of the City & Guilds Business Unit.

The Business Unit grew out of the recognition that for employers, a qualification is not worth the paper it’s printed on if it doesn’t give staff the skills and competencies needed to do the job at hand. The Business Unit works in partnership with employers to help them deliver relevant training and skills development to their staff through tailored programmes.

For example, last year P&O Ferries contacted the Business Unit for advice and assistance in developing the skills of its staff.  The company wanted to address the training needs of its entire workforce, from those running the ship’s galley to everyone involved in business administration. The Business Unit’s innovative solution was to map the training already offered by the company to national occupational standards, and thereby provide P&O with a nationally recognised qualification.

Tim Whitaker, training manager for P&O Ferries, said of this venture:  “The mapping exercise will be a huge motivation to staff. It will help to realise the full value of our training for the company, and individuals will be able get a recognised qualification.”

Our work with P&O demonstrates the importance of qualifications to staff morale. And, according to our City & Guilds’ policy report, “Train to Retain”, one in four workers would have left, or would leave, a job because of poor training and career prospects. Smart employers know that effective in-house training creates a skilled and motivated workforce and in turn, increased productivity.

Testament to this fact is Royal Mail. In 2004, the company approached City & Guilds with one of its greatest challenges since deregulation; its failure to recruit and retain young people aged 16 to 24. Having made a decision to offer an apprenticeship scheme, Royal Mail discovered that there was no qualification available specific to their business. With the Business Unit, an NVQ in Mail Operations was developed as a part of the apprenticeship programme. After the first year of the scheme retention in this age group rose from 64% to a staggering 84% and the sickness rate dropped from 8.7% to 3.7%. Royal Mail believes that this tailor-made qualification is helping to provide the postal industry with a professional edge and is adding real value to its reputation with both staff and customers.

While City & Guilds has reacted to employer’s needs since the development of the Business Unit, it also took the lead in the professionalisation of certain sectors. The introduction of the City & Guilds Level 2 Certificate for Parking Attendants has greatly contributed to the transformation of the parking sector. Training that had for so long been disparate is now standardised and nationally accredited. With the backing of the British Parking Association, large employers including NCP and Vinci Parking have taken up the qualification. Local Authorities are beginning to incorporate into their contracts the requirement that Parking Attendants have a nationally accredited qualification at level 2.

When Dick Winterton took the new post of managing director of City & Guilds in July 2007, he said that City & Guilds was at a turning point in its relationships with its customers: “It is evident to me that awarding bodies won’t be able to carry on as they always have. City & Guilds has become more sophisticated in understanding our customers to ensure the products fit.”

It’s with this insight that we continue to provide employers – in the UK and across the globe – with qualifications that are actually ‘important’ to their business and their staff.


Edwina McQueen, Head of City & Guilds Business Unit

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23 July 2024


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