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The UK National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system is the most comprehensive exponent of competence based qualifications. It has been developed to increase the skills of the UK work force and so improve the country's economy. NVQs are competence based qualifications which reflect the needs of the workplace and are best assessed there. They measure whether a person can carry out his/her work to the defined national standards of best current practice. Occupational standards of competence and NVQs have now been launched for the information and library services sector.The gains to be made by using these standards globally as Human Resource Management (HRM) tools are indicated. Their development and use is described. The author draws upon research she carried out in South Africa to indicate the types of challenges which may need tackling if the UK standards or qualifications are applied elsewhere in other cultures. Overall she advocates considering their use in other countries within the professional culture of librarianship.
Governments the world over are seeking economic salvation. In this forum I do not feel the need to make the case for the contribution the library is able to make towards its country's growth. A recent UK Minister for the National Heritage, Stephen Dorrell said in 1995, at the Library Association's biennial conference Umbrella 3, that "libraries are a key element in enhancing this country's (the UK's) competitiveness". It seems that one government recognises the library as a key to exploiting economic resources - in word if not always in deed! The theme for this paper is to make available globally the competence work developed in one country's libraries to improve the skills of its staff. This in turn should contribute towards the improvement of the economy.
The UK government has developed the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) System as a means of effectively increasing the skills of the major part of the work force. The UK government saw a correlation between poor economic performance and a poorly qualified work force when compared with its main economic competitors. For enthusiastic supporters it is easy to forget that training and qualifications in themselves do not create more jobs. However, lack of training and qualifications can accelerate job losses. By introducing NVQs as a method of assessment, the UK government is encouraging effective training - often where there was little or none before - and at the very least arresting a downward slide.NVQs are competence based qualifications which reflect the needs of the work place and are best assessed there. They measure whether a person can carry out his/her work to the defined national standards of current best practice.
It is said that to be prepared for the next millenium we need a flexible workforce armed with transferable skills. Traditionally the UK education system has reflected the social divisions of the nineteenth century. Vocational education and training was always the poor relation of academia. With NVQs the UK is expected to leap forward into the twenty-first century, able to apply its skills and knowledge towards the improvement of the economy.
I am presenting you with the tool that one country sees as a major part of the solution to increasing the skills of its workforce. If it is expected to work within one country it seems to me that it may offer advantages elsewhere. With the assistance of South African colleagues, I organised the field testing of the occupational standards developed for Information and Library Services NVQs in some libraries in the Gauteng, South Africa during 1994 and 1995. It is the results of this experience, in particular, that I have to share with you.In order to do this I will
A whole range of HRM activities will be streamlined and carried out with far less resources when occupational standards are used as their basis. The organisation which adopts a set of occupational standards as its own can use them as a focus for its HRM functions.Job specifications and descriptions based upon ready made standards will make recruitment processes more efficient. The standards may be used for both organisational and individual training needs analysis.
Personally, I have written and piloted materials for one of the largest public library services in the UK - Essex County Library Service which has approximately 1000 staff of whom 600 are paraprofessional - to use for training needs analysis. These materials are based entirely upon the standards developed for Information and Library Services NVQs. Logically the next step would be to plan a staff training programme based upon the most common gaps identified. For the individual who uses these materials there is an immediate confirmation of the appropriate level of NVQ for which to aim and also of individual training needs to supplement the skills already possessed. Staff appraisal may be based on objective criteria which have been agreed nationally within the sector. Some organisations are deciding not only to use the standards but also to offer assessment to their staff by introducing NVQs. These organisations want to motivate their staff by offering the opportunity to gain a national qualification whilst at work. As more junior levels of staff increase their skills, so the professional staff are able to delegate more and turn their own attention towards creating new and better services.This combination is expected to result in higher quality and increased output. In our sector that may be translated into more and better information and library services. I will demonstrate later why it is that I believe transfer of occupational standards to other countries and cultures may be easier than transfer of the NVQ assessment method.
The concept of competence first evolved - but was never fully exploited - in the United States and Canada from where it was imported into Scotland. From Scotland it spread to the rest of the UK which has become its most comprehensive exponent. Australia and New Zealand have emulated the UK with local variations. The UK civil service department, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has been responsible for funding the development. The National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) is responsible for the regulations governing the development and operation of NVQs. Between 160 and 170 occupational sectors have been identified within the UK work force of which Information and Library Services is one. Each is represented by a Lead Body (in the case of our sector a very representative national committee). One qualifications framework for the first time will encompass all qualifications. This should make it easier to move from one occupation to another.
There are five possible levels of qualification and where necessary individual ones for sub-sectors such as Archives, Records and Tourist Information Centre Services - as well as mainstream Information and Library Services. The sector is largely agreed that the functions we carry out are the same even though the context varies. Each sector starts its functional analysis by establishing a key purpose or mission statement for its entirety: "To anticipate, determine, stimulate and satisfy the needs of existing and potential users for access to information in an ethical manner". Occupational standards development consultants were employed by the Lead Body . Groups of practitioners from all subsectors and levels of information and library staff were drawn into workshops and were asked to break down the key purpose statement into very large functions. Then they split the large functions into smaller and smaller ones until they reach the unit, such as, Identify and provide information/material required by user and finally the element or standard - the smallest meaningful activity - for example, Identify user's needs.
Generic units from Information Technology, Adminstration, Customer Service and Management were adopted from the work of other Lead Bodies. The units are re- grouped to reflect different job roles. Each of these groups forms a qualification and these groups of units are designated levels equating with those in other occupational sectors.Some hundreds of practitioners were involved in the standards development over a period of three years and many more were formally consulted. The amendments were made and the revised draft standards were field tested in UK libraries and information departments.
Following the field test the standards were revised once more before submission to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications some four years after the project was commenced. It was at the penultimate stage that I tested their potential for global transferability.On the Information and Library Services National Vocational Qualifications alone the UK government has directly spent during the first five years of the project more than £500,000 sterling. This has been more than matched in kind by practitioners' time given to the project.
The project continues with the development of the most demanding (level 5) qualifications and implementation of levels 2 - 4. It is felt that no unique information and library services functions are carried out at level 1. The accredited qualifications are operated on behalf of the Information and Library Services Lead Body by the RSA Examinations Board. Assessment and quality assurance procedures follow regulations laid down by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications. The candidate is assessed upon evidence as in a court of law. The type of evidence is prescribed and the amount quantified. The knowledge necessary to undertake the activity is assessed as a part of this evidence.
An almost parallel system of Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) is operated in Scotland by Scotvec.A candidate for NVQ assessment is registered with an assessment centre. The centre, ideally, will be the candidate's own library or alternatively another within the locality. Some education and training providers offer assessment facilities. The candidate will gather evidence from work which matches the criteria in the standards and this evidence is assessed by an assessor. The assessor is overseen by the internal verifier who, in turn, is overseen by the external verifier on behalf of the awarding body, RSA. Each of these is trained and qualified to carry out her/his particular function and must also be occupationally competent.
The very fact that we are meeting together here is recognition of the fact that we carry out the same functions the world over. It will therefore not surprise you to know that in South Africa, whether in a township school library in Soweto or at the library of UNISA the massive distance learning university , the occupational standards developed in the UK were largely relevant. The occupational standards were carried out in a variety of contexts in the assessment of the competent practitioner. Sometimes some of those contexts, for example processing CD roms, were difficult to evidence. However there are more serious hurdles to jump when applying the UK National Vocational Qualifications system elsewhere.When considering the application of NVQs or UK occupational standards in the information and library services of another country, my research has shown that there are four distinct areas which provide challenges. These are language, style of education, style of management and social factors.
Another social factor to consider is that censorship laws, for instance, create the need for people to perform additional functions for which additional standards would need to be written. In South Africa violence in the township of Soweto proved disruptive to assessment. A teacher librarian due to be assessed was nervous to stay in her school after it closed which was the only time available for assessment to take place. The poor transport system made it difficult for the assessor, another teacher librarian to travel across the township and carry out the assessment. In rural areas the large distances would create additional problems. Conversely it may be argued that locally based assessment, no reliance on attendance at courses and the opportunity for training and qualifying in the workplace make such a system far more suitable to implement in places of social need than traditional systems of education and training.
To summarise, I have described the benefits to be gained from a competence based system of qualifications and the standards upon which it is based. I have outlined the development of the UK NVQ system , how it operates and I have pointed the way to some of the difficulties which might need to be overcome in using the occupational standards globally. Whilst none of these challenges is insurmountable, I believe that for successful global transfer it will be necessary to take account of them.In the same way as common culture and practice is found to bind the global corporation, within our profession we have our own professional global culture. The very existence of IFLA is witness to our common functions.
From this point of view it seems likely that information and library services organisations beyond the UK may find value in the occupational standards which were developed there. It will not be possible everywhere to provide the financial resources to carry out full and thorough in-country functional analysis. Where the UK work needs adaptation it is important to remember that the unlevelled standards may be adapted and regrouped to form different qualifications. However, an NVQ cannot be adapted and remain an NVQ.
What would be the benefits of using the UK work elsewhere? Global occupational standards of competence in Information and Library Services would enhance cooperation and increase the international mobility of staff within our sector. The standards when used as qualifications provide a practical alternative to the traditional type of academic qualification experienced by most of us. The fact that the components of the qualification have come from within the workplace indicates that they reflect its needs. The qualifications allow a progression path from the level of junior library or information assistant through to senior librarian or information officer. People are assessed for their ability to carry out their work activities to the criteria laid down in the standards. They are assessed on the results of their work or outcomes. How they attain these standards does not matter. A course might contribute towards their preparation but merely attending a course does not entitle a candidate to an NVQ. Many people will simply be trained on the job. In the UK it is expected that many candidates will be paraprofessional library staff with years of experience who have not previously had the opportunity to qualify. At the other end of the spectrum many expect that level 5 will provide a framework for Continuing Professional Development for the experienced senior librarian.
The standards provide, in documented form, precisely what makes a competent library worker. Never before has this been available as such an easily exportable package.In 1992, during the early days of the development of the UK occupational standards, David Whitaker then Chairman of the Information and Library Services Lead Body, said :
"We must treat this as an opportunity to professionalise information and library services at all levels by the 21st century. It is in the interests of those working in the sector for their own survival and, more importantly, for those for whom they provide services and the country at large. This is the way in which the information and library services sector can contribute towards making Great Britain plc more competitive and successful in the future"I put it to you that we have an opportunity to increase the bonds of our profession internationally. We have a new tool which may be used to increase the effectiveness of library staff at all levels. By so doing we may better the service offered to our users and so provide them with the additional support that they need to more fully exploit the world's economic resources so increasing the standard of living for people throughout the world. If we accept that the library is a key to exploiting economic resources then I believe we must consider global competence in the library as a method of oiling the lock.
Three summaries from Hazel Dakers' NVQs and how to get them. (London: Kogan Page, 1996.)
The NVQ system:
The NVQ Framework covers approximately 160 occupational areas
Differences between NVQs and academic qualifications: