SKILLdoctors Skills Passport Approach

.prescribing the training employers want

SKILLdoctors Position Paper 1:

14 – 19 Vocational Education


(Based on response to call for evidence from Prof Alison Wolf in 2010. Last updated 29 Sep 2015)

1)     Introduction

2)     Observed issues addressed by the Skills Passport approach

3)     Transferring the centre of provision

4)     Regulatory and funding body

5)     Role of educational establishments

6)     Cost savings

7)     Further advantages

8)     Author biog

9)  Further information contact details

1) Introduction

 1.1. The approach proposed here will apply to 16 – 19 year olds who, during their 14 – 15 year education, choose and prepare for a purely vocational pathway. It derives from observations of vocational training for 19+ adults and attempts to address some of the observed issues likely to be common to the 14 – 19 age group.

1.2. This paper presents initial ideas which require further development.

1.3. It builds on the idea of the Skills Passport, but changes the emphasis of the way in which they are used.

1.4. The approach need not be limited to measuring vocational skills (see final point under 2.1 below and first point under 7.1).

2) Observed issues addressed by the Skills Passport approach

 2.1. Some of the observed issues (examples available) which the Skills Passport approach attempts to address include:

               insufficient overlap between taught skills and required skills;

              much vocational training is too academic and does not suit a large cohort of individuals (including NEETs) – too much theory, not enough practical;

              conversely, much current vocational training includes a large element of teaching learners how to suck eggs;

              assessment of skills is over-analytical and requires irrelevant skills to enable individuals to demonstrate relevant skills;

              assessment is cumbersome, bureaucratic, expensive and over-proscriptive;

              much vocational education stifles natural talent and can undermine skills by making some individuals self-conscious;

              balance is skewed too much towards school and college based learning vs. workplace learning;

              for adults, workplace training has been shown to have a greater effect on earning power than gaining a qualification (Wolf et al, Journal of Education Policy Vol. 21, No. 5, September 2006, pp. 535–565);

              terms such as 'two tier system' perpetuate the elitist  core belief (of all sides) that academic education is somehow better than skills based learning and such terms act as a barrier to developing equally valued parallel tracks.

              If a skills passport system were adapted and adopted to include and measure both *vocational and applicable academic skills (*including soft skills), replacing separate systems, it could finally help to break down the divides.

3) Transferring the centre of provision

 3.1. It is suggested that for 16-19 year olds, the main providers of vocational education will be employers rather than educational establishments. Educational establishments will provide gap filling interventions when employers need specified assistance.

 3.2. Employees will have Skills Passports, listing the skill sets pertinent to their job. The skills set will be selected by the employer, together with the employee, from skills menus.

 3.3. Obtaining a Skills Passport and associated lifelong Skills Passport number (= unique learner number) will require online registration.

 3.4. The employer will train the employee on the job and, as the employee is trained against each skill on the passport, the employer will award the employee a score according to level of competence, marking this on the passport (hard copy will be a simplified print out of online ‘master’ copy). Employees who do not require additional training in a particular skill because they have already attained the required level will equally have that skill scored and dated on their passport.

 3.5. Under this approach, all employers will be expected to register (online) to provide training. Those who do not register will be able to provide training, but will be unable to award Skills Passport scores, thus employees are likely to favour employment with registered employers.

3.6. A self-regulatory system, involving (employer) peer assessment, will ensure that standards are maintained. This will be both formal and informal. There will be little or no assessment by independent external bodies (though see also section 4 below).

 3.7. The informal regulation will occur as certain employers gain either a good or less good reputation for their training and Skills Passport marking, much in the same way as educational establishments gain informal reputations.

 3.8. The formal assessment will take place when employees move jobs. New employers will be encouraged to assess passport scores and register their assessment of those scores via an online system as well as submitting reviews. In this way employers will build up an assessment score and a review profile. Mechanisms will be needed to ensure that the system works for all sizes of employer.

 3.9. There will also be an employee assessment and review system.

 3.10. Employees will build up skills scores. These will measure real skills, learned on the job and valued by employers. Different skills will carry different ratings according to their complexity. As well being entered initially onto paper Skills Passports (print outs of the online master copy), skills scores will be entered by employers onto the online master Skills Passport to ensure that the online master copy is kept up to date. The online Skills Passport will electronically sort skills according to category, rating and score. An online analysis will award Levels or Grades of achievement both in terms of overall rating/score and classified according to job type and calculated according to score and balance of basic vs. complex skills.

 3.11. Many skills will be relevant to more than one job type and the online analysis will enable an employee to see what rating/score level they are achieving in other job areas, thus allowing measurement of transferable skills.

 3.12. When an individual changes job, a new skills menu will be entered in the Skills Passport, listing any new skills required for the new job and cross referencing with relevant existing skills. (Cross referencing will be automatic in the online Skills Passport.)

 3.13. An employee will be able to request that a score on their Skills Passport is updated if there is good reason to consider it out of date or good reason to judge that the score has been improved upon.

 3.14. Scoring will not be overly proscriptive or be constricted by rigid, detailed marking schemes. Employers will be allowed flexibility and judgement to mark within bands such as: competent, 1-3; good, 4-6; excellent, 7-9. Normalisation and consistency will be achieved via the self-regulation and peer review mechanisms.

3.15. When scoring against a particular skill on the Skills Passport, limited extra information will be provided e.g. if the skill is use of a particular category of till (cash register), detail of the type(s) of till will be entered. There will be further, but still limited, information on the online Skills Passport compared with the paper print out.

4) Regulatory and funding body

4.1. An independent body will be needed, but its size and cost will be minimal compared with current regulatory, funding and local authority bodies, not least because the main regulatory role will be carried out by employers. The roles of the regulatory body (the local representatives of which may be hosted by local authorities) will include:

        in liaison with educational establishments, assisting employers in defining and grading skills, drawing up skills menus and defining core job related skills sets;

        maintaining the online system;

        monitoring the online peer and employee assessment and review systems;

        arbitration in regulatory disputes;

        managing the funding.

 4.2. The size and cost of the organisation will also be less than that of current bodies because funding criteria will be simpler, requiring the transfer of funds for increases in Skills Passport score (entered online) to the relevant training provider, usually an employer (but sometimes an educational establishment when gap filling).

5) Role of educational establishments

 This will change radically under the Skills Passport approach. Educational Establishments will no longer be the main providers of vocational training for 16 – 19 year olds. Nor will the vast majority of training occur in educational buildings. Moreover, there will not be curricula devised by educational establishments. Employers, in liaison with educational establishments will define the sets of skills required for the jobs they host. It is also essential that the Skills Passport approach does not merely become an exercise in transferring the academic approach from traditional learning environments to the workplace, as appears to be the case with some apprenticeships and, for example, the SCITT programme.

 Educational establishments will, amongst other roles:

             prepare 14 – 15 year olds for the Skills Passport approach;

              provide ‘flying trainers’ (‘Skill Doctors’) to fill training gaps for individuals or groups at the request of employers and to their case by case specifications. These interventions will be delivered in the workplace to teach skills specific to the job;

              in liaison with the regulatory body, assist employers in defining and grading skills, drawing up skills menus and defining core job related skills sets;

              provide in parallel (essential) non-vocational learning, though perhaps this is a false dichotomy - there is a huge and growing body of evidence that, so-called, non-vocational  learning is vital for a rounded and healthy population and therefore for a rounded and healthy workforce.

6) Cost savings

 6.1. In addition to the savings described under 4 above, it is also envisaged that there will be substantial savings from reducing the role of educational establishments as only a proportion of these savings will be required to fund training by employers.

6.2. It is proposed that each learner will have a notional annual budget (considerably less than current cost per learner), which will mainly be used to fund employers for each Skills Passport point gained by the learner during their employment / training with that employer during the course of the budget year.

7) Further advantages

 7.1. Other advantages of the approach include:

         the Skills Passport will accompany an individual beyond 19 and throughout their career, having the potential, as points are accumulated, to surpass academic qualifications as a tool for employers as well as for employees moving job - even those pursuing an academic route will need to be assessed against Skills Passport measures and it is acknowledged that such a system might be unpopular with some who have achieved their position by choosing a, perhaps largely irrelevant, academic approach without formal assessment of relevant and/or transferrable skills);

        as an individual collects more skills/points, he/she will be able to check scores in other job areas (quantifiable measure of transferrable skills) and fill gaps (e.g. by seeking other roles in his/her organisation where missing skills/points can be accumulated) to facilitate desired career changes;

        scoring will recognise ‘natural talent’ as well as taught skills and behaviours;

        employers assess relevant skills rather than requiring individuals to acquire irrelevant skills (analytical skills, advanced writing skills etc) to demonstrate their relevant skills.

8) Author biog

 The author has eight years experience running a programme which helped adults with mental health problems to access education as part of their recovery process. He also spent eight years teaching A-level science to students who had not achieved their required grades in a school setting and is author of a five star rated online science text. After a period as an interim manager, working with clients such as NIACE, an adult learning consortium and the NHS, he has currently returned to teaching.


Email: info at skilldoctors dot org dot uk


Skills Passport: Europass