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The new era of vocational qualification assessment

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The challenging economic climate that we currently face is testing training providers across the country to streamline their efficiencies. Here, Tony Perks explores the complex process of vocational qualification assessment.

 
The vocational learner's journey is a complex route for all involved. Throughout the duration the learner will meet with their assessor on a regular basis. Monthly visits will be scheduled and completed to review progress and capture the necessary evidence of development and improvement. Enrolment, induction, training, assessment, reviews and guidance are all part of the learner journey and need to be delivered, tracked and recorded to fulfil contractual requirements to ensure successful outcomes.

A challenging process

Naturally, manual record keeping is a labour intensive task. A typical learner will require an 8-10 page sign up document detailing their course of study, employer details, assessor visits schedule and programme details. Throughout the duration of the programme a candidate's assessment record (CAR) will be updated. If the training provider is using a manual NVQ logbook this could be a two to three hundred-page document for the learner to complete.
 
"When looking for solutions to these challenges we need to consider the required outcomes for all parties involved."
Not only is this a cumbersome paper-based document for the assessor or learner to transport to each visit, but completing the paperwork by hand is extremely time consuming. Furthermore, this process is environmentally irresponsible.
Where paper-based systems are used, information needs to be keyed into a database to enable funding draw-down and tracking of learners. In many organisations, separate systems are used for funding draw-down and learner management giving rise to greater risk of input errors and inconsistency between data sources.
When looking for solutions to these challenges we need to consider the required outcomes for all parties involved. Firstly, the assessor – they need to complete a thorough and efficient visit with each of their learners. Secondly, the learner – they need to be able to view their training plan, action plans and portfolio of work to judge their progress and identify areas for improvement. Thirdly, the employer requires clear visibility of their learners' progress. Comparisons can then be made; high performers can be recognised and encouragement can be given to those that need to improve their performance.

Exploiting technological advances

In recent years there has been an explosion of technological advancements. It is now that the training sector must fully utilise its offerings. Transforming the assessment of vocational qualifications from a manual process to an electronic-based procedure can result in a diverse range of business benefits and efficiencies.
Lifetime, one of the UK's top 10 largest training providers, has transformed its vocational assessment procedure through an innovative computerised assessment application. Fiscal savings have resulted, not only per learner portfolio, but also company-wide.
Firstly, let's consider the significant paper and printing costs of each candidate assessment record produced through the traditional, manual approach. Large training providers will be delivering programmes to thousands of NVQ learners per year resulting in a considerable fiscal outlay. Postage costs are incurred; as confidential documents, recorded delivery is required for all auditable paperwork and learner work. Taking resource into consideration here, the administration team can dedicate up to two hours per learner electronically logging sign up details and reviews; a lengthy process if hundreds, or thousands, of learners are to be processed.
Michelle Hyatt, work-based learning operations manager at Lifetime, says: "Looking after thousands of NVQ learners at any one time, we experienced huge inefficiencies in manual record keeping. We realised that for our business to be at the forefront of the sector, we required an immediate solution.
 
The power of a paperless portfolio

Experience a range of benefits:

1) Savings per portfolio
-    Paper and printing costs
-    Postage costs
-    Administration resource and time

2)    Company wide efficiencies
-    Storage costs
-    Travel costs
-    Audit team resources

3)    Risk management
-    e-Signature efficiencies
-    Financial audit accuracy
-    Visible activity

4)    Driving results
-    Detailed management information
-    Performance comparisons
-    Active measurement"
"Since implementing our 'paperless portfolio', we have not looked back. We have refined our business processes, operations and management. Our estimated savings are in excess of £500,000; these funds can now be spent on enhancing learner resources and providing greater support for learners, trainers and assessors. In addition, we have recently been approved to implement e-signature authority; this means that all documents can be signed electronically, rather than through the traditional paper-based approach.
"Our assessors regularly report on the benefits of using technology in their role. This reduces the number of staff we employ to check and file audit paperwork and there is no risk of missing learner records during SFA audits."
Company-wide, the training provider has generated significant savings and an increase in business intelligence. Internal verifier (IV) resource has reduced by 30% due to efficiency in monitoring and risk management of assessors. The audit team has also experienced a 50% increase in its efficiencies due to automated checking of information at point of entry. Back office processing including registrations, certification claims and framework certificate claims have been streamlined also.

Liaising with the Skills Funding Agency (SFA)

The SFA issues a number of strict criteria that training providers must comply with in order to draw on their funding allowance throughout a learner's training programme. By capturing information at point of entry and holding all assessment, verification and claim information in one place, training providers can submit accurate and up-to-date financial audits to draw on their appropriate allocation. This therefore guarantees efficient claim processes resulting in streamlined business efficiencies.
Michelle continues: "The ability to capture information and evidence, communicate it directly to the back office for verification and audit, as well as submitting funding claims information accurately to the SFA takes vocational qualification assessment into a new era. We have greater visibility of learner progression and achievement; this significantly reduces the financial risks associated with delivering funded training."
Vocational learners step into a new era
Fully exploiting the benefits of technology can also benefit the learner. Accessing their portfolio through an online candidate portal permits the learner to view their records and communicate with their assessor. The future of online assessment lies here; to aid the learner's journey, innovative solutions will allow the learner to submit information online 24/7. Not only does this allow 'anytime, anywhere' learning but it also permits seamless communication at the click of a button.

Food for thought

As the Government demands greater value for money, providers will need to streamline processes and systems to drive greater efficiencies in training delivery. Technology provides many benefits and can significantly reduce the costs of delivering programmes whilst facilitating further quality improvement.

 
Tony Perks is Chief Executive of the GO team. Tony has over 20 years experience working in software and technology based businesses as a senior management professional; he has significant experience in both national and international organisations.
GO Vocational Solutions, conceived by one of the top 10 learning providers in the UK, is a leader in the development of work-based training support solutions. GO Portfolio has a successful track record of delivering NVQs and apprenticeships to thousands of successful learners across the UK.

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