Qualifications set the standards for competence in the waste sector

The environmental and waste management services industry is currently undergoing a massive period of change. Changes in technology, equipment, working practices and legislation combined with increasing demands for improved levels of service and increased profitability place the employees, at all levels, within the industry under increasing pressure. Contracts are now calling for a competent service delivered by competent employees. This special contribution from WAMITAB explores how competence can be achieved in the delivery of environmental and waste management services

How do we ensure that companies and individual employees are achieving the levels of competence called for in contracts? How do we improve the quality of recyclates to allow the company to maximise profits? How do we improve the levels of customer satisfaction? How do we keep individual motivation high when the working environment is not conducive? How do we retain staff when the going gets tough?

This is a changing world, particularly within local authorities, and the associated contractors, responsible for delivering the government's recycling agenda and meeting landfill diversionary targets. The pressure to increase the skills and competence at all levels of the workforce to meet these new challenges is immense. Additionally, PPC is calling for us to demonstrate that we have competence at all levels of employment. The HSE is also placing the industry under the microscope and calling for increased levels of training and competence; the two are not the same. The HSE guidance to directors states that "it is the responsibility of all company directors to ensure that all members of staff are trained and competent." This makes it clear that training alone is not sufficient to ensure competence.

It is true that all forms of training, regardless of delivery methodology, provide individuals with knowledge and skills. Some training is more effective than others and this will largely depend on the preferred learning method of the individual receiving the learning, the motivation to learn, the quality of the learning material and the skills of the facilitator.

At the end of a training programme it is assumed that the individual successfully completing the programme is judged to be competent to the levels set within the programme. This, typically, might be measured by demonstrating that they have retained 60% - 80% of the programme learning objectives through some form of testing. However, a level of 60% - 80% competent in the workplace is not satisfactory; we, and the HSE, require all of our employees to be as close to 100% competent as is practicable. Additionally, long standing employees are not always sent on training courses as it is assumed that they know what they are doing, or that they do not need training for their job.

Assessing competence

What is needed is a method of assessing an individual against a nationally recognised standard for workplace competence. This will allow those who have just completed training and those who do not need training to be assessed against the same standards in the workplace.

What can be done to ensure that all employees are competent in the workplace? This can be achieved through ongoing workplace assessment, learning and re-assessment against pre-defined standards for competence. These standards for competence are set out in the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for each major occupational area within the industry. The NOS are developed by the industry and set out the minimum acceptable levels of competence for each function performed within the industry.

During development of these NOS a wide ranging consultation, with employers of all sizes, takes place to identify the standards of competence required by the industry. These are then submitted to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) for accreditation as National Occupational Standards. These NOS can then be used, by recognised Awarding Bodies, to develop Workplace Learning and Assessment Programmes. Some examples of Workplace Learning and Assessment Programmes are National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ), Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ) and Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQ).

Scottish and National Vocational Qualifications (S/NVQs)

S/NVQs are nationally recognised qualifications. S/NVQs provide assessment against the National Occupational Standards. They assume that no learning is required until this is clearly identified through assessment. In most cases learning needs can be satisfied through short one-to-one sessions as necessary. Where significant learning is identified the assessment can be delayed until the candidate has received this. A candidate is assessed, and their competence improved, until they satisfy the assessor that they can consistently achieve the standards. There are S/NVQs to cover all functions within the Waste Management Industry from Street Cleansing and Waste Collection through Recycling and Treatment to Transfer and Landfill or Incineration.

The characteristics of these programmes are:

  • Assessment is in the workplace against National Occupational Standards.
  • Candidates are not "lost to training" until a need is identified
  • They very accurately identify training needs; maximising on a training budget
  • Most training needs identified can be satisfied quickly
  • They can link directly to appraisal schemes
  • They are an effective method to:
  • Support changes to the service
  • Improve motivation, morale
  • Improve quality of products and services
  • Develop ambassadors for the company
  • Improve teamwork
  • Improve health and safety
  • Reduce wastage
  • Reduce liabilities and insurance premiums
  • Provide opportunity to increase skills of temporary workforce
  • Increase profitability
  • Demonstrate competence to meet contract conditions
Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs)

VRQs are also nationally recognised qualifications that are achieved through a mix of formal learning and workplace assessment. The delivery and workplace assessment methods can be adapted to meet the specific needs of the industry, employer and an individual learner. For example a VRQ might be achieved through attendance on a short course and a workplace activity observed by a suitably qualified assessor. Alternatively the learner might complete the learning through e-learning or complete a workplace assignment rather than an observed activity

. The characteristics of these programmes are:
  • As for S/NVQs, plus
  • A mix of a formal learning and very focused workplace assessment
  • Short courses, or programmes, to satisfy specific competence needs such as:
  • Improving health and safety competence
  • Improving competence for a specific functional area
  • Improving competence for the use of new technologies

The consistency and quality of assessment for both types of qualification are independently assured by the Awarding Body.

Qualifications accepted

The use of S/NVQs and VRQs is increasing in every industry in the UK. These types of qualification are now accepted by the academic institutions, indeed many are delivered by them, and are accepted more and more by the professional institutions as equivalents to more formal academic qualifications. The Government has set targets stating that the minimum level of workplace competence is level 2; that of a skilled operator. Levels range from Level 1 - semi skilled operator up to Level 5 - Senior Manager.

These types of qualification have now improved and matured and industry recognises that they are an important measure along with long standing financial, quality and customer satisfaction measures. In fact it is only when you include employee competence into the equation that you get a truly holistic measure of a company.

To find out how these important qualifications can help you and your organisation you should contact WAMITAB; the Awarding Body for the Waste Management Industry. The contact details are: WAMITAB, Peterbridge House, 3 The Lakes, Northampton NN4 7HE. Tel: 01604 231950. WWW.wamitab.org.uk



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