No need to step backward to move forward

Barry Hopley, Head of Development and Resourcing at NSL, argues there is a real need to effectively define apprenticeships now, to suit the skills and training programmes already in place and avoid the system being open to abuse.

The parking industry has come a long way in recent years – new technologies, new working practices and a focus on compliance, rather than punishment, all amount to significant progress that’s helping to build public perceptions and confidence. Such progress has been achieved by promoting professional standards and competencies – especially at the frontline of service delivery.

Today’s Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs) are benefitting from unprecedented professional support and qualifications that don’t just drive consistently high service standards by testing knowledge, but also take account of how that knowledge is being applied in practice.  It’s disappointing therefore, that there’s a very real risk such significant progress could be undermined. And, ironically, the threat is coming from another well-intentioned initiative to boost the training and career development of individuals.

The government’s new levy aims to encourage local authorities to adopt apprenticeship schemes as part of its drive to create opportunities for three million new apprentices. On the face of it, such a move is understandable; it will certainly build on the developing success of apprenticeships which have been founded on high quality training and professionally recognised qualifications. Indeed, interest in such vocational training from both employers and prospective employees – especially school leavers – continues to grow.

But we must be careful that investing in the pursuit of such a vast number of new apprenticeships is directed into areas where it can achieve positive impact, and where it won’t dilute the high standards currently being achieved. The focus must also be on creating new job roles for new people where there is requirement to learn a substantial amount before an apprentice is in a position to do the job properly and effectively.

As authorities seek to hit their apprenticeship targets and draw down funding, it’s vital that such moves don’t just fuel lower paid role conversions by redefining training provision within existing roles. Consequently, I believe the apprenticeship levy needs to have the flexibility to take account of those dedicated training programmes founded on the exhaustive and considered input of experienced industry professionals.

The risks are very real in the field of civil enforcement. Here WAMITAB qualifications represent a major step forward from the earlier City and Guilds qualification – for the CEOs themselves as well as their employers (and the organisation they represent) and the profession as a whole. A CEO requires a clear skillset, and ongoing refresher training but doesn’t benefit from the 280 hours learning time within an apprenticeship model.

Artificially creating additional unjustified learning modules is not only a wasted investment in training. It also won’t enhance key competencies and could lead to apprentices being recruited into vacant roles on substantially reduced salaries – devaluing the professional standards and qualifications of existing personnel. That would represent a very backward step for the profession and for everyone working at the frontline of civil enforcement.