Friday 21st Oct 2016 - Logistics Manager

Is it all a matter of competence?: Mick Jackson

There I was, one day last week, strolling along the road to Damascus, minding my own business when – bang! Suddenly, something that I’d been grappling with for a long time seemed to fit into place.

As with all good road movies, we need to start with a flashback to set the scene.

When I joined Skills for Logistics in 2004, I did so with a background of operations and solutions management around the world but nothing directly to do with training. As a result, I am an enthusiast following a passion to tackle skills development across a sector which frankly needs all the help it can get.

This lack of background and the associated lack of baggage about how we do things, has mostly held me in good stead. It has however pitched me into a number of “interesting debates” over the years, especially over the way the qualifications system works.

Let me explain. The production line for qualifications and programmes starts with a group of people compiling National Occupational Standards, the universal foundation stone of publicly funded qualifications. As a Sector Skills Council, Skills for Logistics are the custodians of said standards for the sector.

The need for such standards is not in question, they do what they say on the tin and provide a consistent basis for qualifications.

Somehow though, something goes adrift in the process because when we consult employers we consistently hear that the training on offer is often not relevant and fails to meet their needs. This explains the messianic devotion to relevance often expressed in this column.

The Professional Development Stairway is effectively a competency framework which is generic across companies in the logistics sector irrespective of the industry sector being served.

Many companies have their own competency frameworks which is fine but for those that don’t, the Stairway provides a good start point with some 470 separate competency statements.

In making sure that these competency statements are fit for purpose, we have mapped each statement back to supporting standards, either those that cover logistics or others such as Leadership & Management standards.

If you are still with me, we have now reached the “Road to Damascus” moment. The writing of occupational standards is often referred to as a “Black Art” in that they are written in such a form that they can cover as many applications as possible. Were they not, there would be a dramatic proliferation of standards.

The standards form the basis of qualifications so the generalised language used in those standards can also be interpreted to “show that the content of the qualification meets what industry wants”.

In other words, the standards are deliberately written so they can be interpreted in different ways to meet different situations. However, if qualifications are put together on the basis of those, the interpretation used by the designers may not be the one that is wanted by employers.

I’m sure such a statement will incur the wrath of awarding bodies, standards writers and course designers but it seems to explain why employers talk about the lack of relevance in training offered.

The answer would appear to be to design qualifications on the basis of agreed competency statements rather than the intentionally more generalised occupational standards, hence our focus on developing Relevance Forums to determine which competencies the qualifications and programmes need to address.

Apologies about the “anorak” nature of this month’s column, and with due apologies to St Paul, here endeth the gospel.