Employability qualifications are just the job

Increasing unemployment is fuelling a sharp rise in demand for short employability qualifications, figures obtained by FE Week reveal.

Statistics from three major awarding bodies – Edexcel, City and Guilds and NCFE – report significant increases in registrations for courses which aim to improve CVs, improve interview techniques and aid application writing.
Although aiming to help get people into work, the qualifications, in some cases, only see little more than a third enter employment.

Despite this, the reason behind the surge in people registering for the qualifications is blamed, by the bodies, on rising unemployment rates.

However, it could also be down to the opening up of the single Adult Skills Budget from August last year, which means training providers who previously offered apprenticeships or workplace learning are now able to deliver outside the workplace.

Figures from Pearson, owned by Edexcel, from the start of September to the end of November in 2010 and 2011, show registrations of their Workskills qualification by training providers rose from 1,951 to 27,878 – an increase of some 1,428 per cent.

However, during the same time period, numbers for non-training providers – schools and colleges – have slightly decreased from 87,753 to 87,244.

The total for both provider types is 115,122 in 2011 – an increase of 25,418 when compared to the total of 89,704 in 2010.

A Pearson spokesperson said: “More than ever, individuals wishing to progress in the workplace, in education and in training, need to demonstrate flexible and wide-ranging skills.”

Further analysis shows the increase is due to the introduction of a ‘Designed for Apprentices’ model of the qualification, accounting for 24,909 of 2011’s figures. The qualification was not available the previous year.

A spokesperson for Pearson confirmed that there are no apprenticeship frameworks that mandate a Workskills qualification, adding: “As far as we understand it, providers are taking this in addition to their apprenticeships – even though it’s not funded – as it helps learners with the apprenticeship programme.

“As there is no additional funding for this, we took the decision to provide free registration for the WorkSkills qualifications as part of the BTEC Apprenticeship package when registering on full frameworks.”

Fellow awarding body City & Guilds (C&G) has also revealed an increase in registration numbers for their Employability and Personal Development qualification.

In the same time period, figures have risen from 15,160 to 24,872, but they were unable to split the figure by provider type.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “This increase can probably be attributed to the sharp rise in UK unemployment figures recorded over the same period.”

The spokesperson added: “With high levels of unemployment, people are focusing on developing the skills needed to find work. The qualifications help learners develop employability skills that employers require, helping them be more attractive in a competitive job market or progress into education.”

NCFE, due to “commercial sensitivity” were unable to provide specific details, but have revealed that registrations for their eight employability qualifications have risen by 396 per cent during the past 12 months.

A spokesperson for NCFE said: “The growth is understandable when you consider the emphasis now being placed on the government to ensure young people are prepared for work and rapid growth in unemployment figures.

“These particular qualifications are popular as they provide core skills needed to help people gain employment and get their first step onto the career ladder.”

The Skills Funding Agency said greater access to the Adult Skills Budget was “intended to simplify the funding system” and increase opportunity for learners.

A spokesperson said: “This means that training organisations that have previously been restricted to workplace learning can also deliver provision geared to meet needs of individuals, including helping unemployed people into work.”

The Agency also said that colleges and providers are “free to make their own decisions about the mix and balance” of their provision, including the specific qualifications they deliver, when asked about the budget’s use.

Among those offering employability skills is RTT Group, which delivers the full-time qualification over two weeks at 10 sites across England.

Nick Barton, director of operations employability at the provider, said: “We will expect to see 7,500 to 9000 clients from Jobcentre Plus, Work Programme and Work Choice from across the country by the end of this academic year.

“That could easily increase by 25 to 50 per cent if we could fund it.

“The numbers are more than double than we saw last year through Response to Redundancy and Routes into Work.”

When asked about job progression, Mr Barton added: “We can’t offer 100 per cent of the learners employment.

“We offer 100 per cent of learners in our Sector Based Work Academy programmes that we run with Jobcentre Plus, a guaranteed interview and work experience.

“Our job entry rate is better than many Welfare to Work providers and, depending on where we are delivering in the country, we expect it to be over 38 per cent and for our Work Programme customers, over 50 per cent.”