Historically the welfare-to-work industry, which employs in the region of 20,000 people, has had no occupational standards or designated Sector Skills Council, no required entry qualifications or recognised professional qualifications. Very little of the training for the employability sector’s workforce that has been delivered has been externally accredited.

Various pieces of research highlighted the need to improve the industry’s approach to training and developing its people. It was recognised that the ability of welfare to work providers in the independent and college sectors to attract and retain the best people, who were able to work at a confident and competent level, providing personalised and expert support was going to be critical to the success of the Work Programme. To achieve this, it was vital that the status of practitioners such as the personal advisor role was enhanced through the provision of a framework of professional qualifications and clear career pathways.

In 2010 the sector agreed to address what professional standards and qualifications were required within a flexible framework, which focused on improved productivity, reduced attrition and the attraction of high calibre people into the sector. Sector employers came together to create the PoWER (Professionalisation of Welfare to Work Expert Reference) Group. The PoWER group, chaired by Janette Faherty OBE of Avanta, consisted of AELP, DWP prime contractors, subcontractors, private and voluntary sector employers, plus Inclusion and ERSA.

PoWER created a project group, funded by PoWER members, specifically to look at the qualifications and the creation of an overarching professional body for the industry. Working closely with the awarding body EDI, the project team were able to use the flexibilities of the QCF to design and develop a flexible and accessible framework of qualifications closely aligned to job roles across the sector.

Too often the processes involved in bringing qualifications to market is unwieldy and time consuming.”

Many of the units came from existing QCF qualifications in customer service, recruitment, sales and information advice and guidance with the addition of two new sector specific units, Understanding the Employment Related Services Sector and Sustaining an Employment Outcome, which were written by members of the project group.

The level 3 award, Certificate and Diploma in Employment Related Services, which together with an Advanced Apprenticeship make up the Employment Related Services Qualification Framework, has been developed for people working with the unemployed, supporting them to progress into sustainable employment. The suite of qualifications allows the industry to set the bar on the high standards expected from employees and the quality service they provide, whilst giving individuals an opportunity to be able to accredit the skills, knowledge and experience they have gained against national standards. By offering clear career paths with greater opportunities for progression, the industry expects to enhance performance and motivation amongst its workforce leading to greater productivity and uplifts in the number of sustained job outcomes achieved.

The take-up of new qualifications for those working in the employability industry is gathering momentum. Over 25 providers have now been approved to offer the qualifications and the first candidate to complete the Diploma is waiting to be awarded their certificate.

The whole of the FE and skills sector can learn from the success of the PoWER group. They have demonstrated how effectively employers can work together to develop standards and qualifications that really meet the needs of their businesses. A shared drive and passion enabled the new suite of qualifications and Advanced Apprenticeship framework to be developed from scratch in less than six months which is a remarkable achievement.

Too often the processes involved in bringing qualifications to market is unwieldy and time consuming, but by having a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve and working closely with both EDI and Skills for Justice, the PoWER group has been able to overcome barriers and found ways of fast tracking the accreditation process.

The journey is not over. Partner organisations working together generated a successful bid to UKCES for funding to support the establishment of the Institute for Employability Professionals and secured further success in a tender to NAS for Higher Apprenticeship Funding; the latter was led by AELP member and leading Higher Apprentice training provider Babington Business College.

Stella Turner is AELP’s qualifications and curriculum manager and a member of the PoWER project group