Previous Article Next Article KateO’Connor is director of development at media skills organisation Skillset and aalso rising star in the vocational skills firmament. Simon Kent tunes in to hernew agenda under the forthcoming Sector Skills Development AgencyTo say that the new year will be busy for Kate O’Connor is something of anunderstatement. As this edition of Training Magazine was going to press, she received thenews that Skillset, the National Training Organisation for broadcast, film,video and interactive media, for which she works as director of development,has been granted a two-year licence to operate as a Sector Skills Council”trailblazer”. The arrangement, which kicks off this month, will entail offering advice andguidance to other potential SSCs (drawn from 72 former NTOs which will find outover the next few months if they will be reincarnated). These trailblazers will, to borrow other government jargon, act as”pathfinders”, identifying the targets for improvement for skills andproductivity from connections with the Regional Development Agencies. Skillset has long received important endorsement from the industry itrepresents. Both unions and employers gave their backing when it first was putforward for recognition as one of the six proposed “trailblazing”SSCs. In effect, five have been announced (see News, page 4). The NTO National Council, where O’Connor acts as chair of the Standards andQualifications Committee, will disband and a new Sector Skills DevelopmentAgency will appear to manage the SSC network. O’Connor herself has secured a further role in the future of vocationaltraining, having been made an adviser to the Employer Champions Group, createdby the DfES and NTO National Council in November to identify how both NationalOccupational Standards and National Vocational Qualifications can be promotedto raise skills levels and overcome shortages throughout industry. Many changes are afoot, but the proposed remit of Skillset for its ownindustry has been identified, thanks to the conclusions of an 18-monthprogramme of consultation and research into skill requirements throughout theaudio visual sector. The final report, Skills for Tomorrow’s Media, was published in September2001 and contains clear initiatives for the organisation as well as indicatingthe role of employers, employees, Government and unions in providing effectivetraining. Challenges “Skillset has been successful because we’ve always taken a specificfocus on the needs of the industry,” says O’Connor. “Those needs arenot unique to this industry, but many are, including challenges of dealing witha freelance workforce and a predominantly SME employer base.” Since its creation as an Industry Led Body in 1991, Skillset has workedtowards providing a completely integrated skills and training service for thesector. It has monitored industry needs, raising and managing finance fromwithin the sector and from external sources to meet those needs. At the same time, it has represented the sector back to government, seekingto influence policy and priorities in this area. The challenges met by Skillset may not be unique to the industry, but inmany ways the media’s experience has been a concentrated version of trendsexperienced throughout industry in general. The early 1990s saw radical changes in the media industry. At a time ofrecession, new technology was changing the way many employees worked. Restructuring occurred throughout the sector as ITV companies bid for theirlicences and the BBC’s charter was assessed and renewed. One result was that, almost overnight, employees had to switch fromlong-term job security to short term freelance work. The creation of Channel 4, the emergence of new media and the greateremphasis on commissioning programmes meant new training solutions needed to befound to address entrants and freelance workers in a growing independentsector. “Skillset emerged from the need and recognition that training had to beorganised in a suitable way for the industry,” says O’Connor. “The industry had to work together, forgetting the distinctions of video,TV, radio and corporate work to identify common standards for the training ofindustry professionals. “We created a set of standards and competence levels within theindustry which could be used across training from apprenticeships to continualprofessional development programmes. “Delivery has always been through the industry using professionaltraining providers,” O’Connor continues. “Where Government programmesfit we have used them to their best effect, but we don’t try to bringGovernment initiatives into the industry for the sake of it. “We have also represented the industry’s views to Government to saythis is the kind of support we need with initiatives such as modernapprenticeships, given our workforce are predominantly graduate, freelance,specialists and aged over 21.” One reason for O’Connor’s optimism is the enhanced profile she believes willbe afforded to the SSCs, increasing employer’s influence at Government level. “Individual NTOs have made a difference, but we’ve always had to pushfor that status,” she says. “I hope one of the differences will be that the SSCs are seen as thevoice of their sector. John Healey [Adult Skills Minister] has supported thatand described the SSCs as the missing dimension which will fit alongside theRegional Development Agencies and the local Learning Skills Councils. What hasbeen missing is a strong network of sector representation.” O’Connor is also pleased by the emphasis placed on expected productivityincrease achieved through the restructure. “Education and training is about improving productivity,” shesays. “The provision of further and higher education cannot be exempt fromthat objective. Making sure that connection is clear will get buy-in to the newstructure from employers.” It is interesting to note that the current research aims of the EmployerChampions Group is to examine how National Occupational Standards and NVQsshould be developed and “used as a tool to raise skills levels and enhancebusiness performance”. The group will advise ministers, the Learning and Skills Council, the QCAand the RDAs on this subject by April 2002. Certainly O’Connor perceives a generally positive feeling among employersthat the SSCs will increase their influence in the training arena. Critics have argued that in some cases training has been led by education,irrespective of industry needs. The media has had its own problems with theeducation sector. “In the mid-90s there was an explosion of further andhigher education courses in the media and the industry was very critical ofmany of those courses,” says O’Connor. “Employers found themselves bombarded by requests for work experience,but at the same time, when students had completed their courses, they hadlittle or no idea of what the industry was about.” Through working with employers and reflecting their needs to the educationsector, Skillset has reduced the antagonism that developed over this period.Formal education now offers more relevant degrees and employers expect to recruitqualified individuals. In line with Government policy, Skillset is supporting the drive towardsrecognising centres of vocational excellence in further education to deliverspecific skills to the industry. At the same time, a framework for course accreditationby the industry is being developed. Higher education courses meeting certainstandards will gain a “kite mark” of good quality. “Courses will be measured to straight-forward criteria,” explainsO’Connor. “These will include whether they meet national standards, ifthey taught by people with professional experience, if they use professionalequipment and so on. “We hope the establishment of the SSC network will help in this area bygiving the industry more power and influence on policy within the higher andfurther education sectors.” Positioning Naturally, there is a reverse side to hopes held for the new councils.”Employers are positive about the SSCs because of their generalpositioning, their increased influence and the increased government fundingthey will receive,” says O’Connor. “However, they are also nervous that there simply won’t be enoughgovernment funding for the new organisations to be effective.” In addition, the restructuring is destined to result in a reduction oftraining representative bodies. A figure of 25 SSCs is rumoured – compared with over 70 currently operatingNTOs – but whatever the final figure, some industry sectors will have to merge.O’Connor resists the idea of a merger. “Our sector is very clear itwants to retain its current remit and size,” she says. “The sectorcannot get any bigger, otherwise the impact of our work will be diluted.” She notes that any such merger could delay the implementation of Skillset’scurrent agenda. The sector report Skills for Tomorrow’s Media carries over 70recommendations for moving training practice forward and O’Connor is clearlyeager to get on with the work. “There’s a lot to be getting on with in the sector and any kind ofdelay will be frustrating,” she says. One role which will disappear from O’Connor’s portfolio next year is that ofchair of Standards and Qualifications Committee for the NTO National Council. The committee comprises representatives from 16 diverse NTOs and has advisedon policy issues including the development and funding of National OccupationalStandards to organisations such as the QCA and the DfES. The committee may disappear along with the NTO structure but O’Connor willcontinue to act as an ambassador for National Occupational Standards whenevershe can. “We have delegations from all over the world talking to us to find outhow we set up these standards in the TV and audio sector,” she says.”In some cases, other countries have taken our standards and ideas andused them to greater effect. I think that has been partly due to this notionthat the standards are linked with NVQs and in some areas NVQs have never beencompletely accepted. “There are difficulties of implementing those qualifications andassessing on the job. It’s a major investment for employers to take on, and canbe difficult in a freelance environment.” World leaders “I’ve always felt passionately about the value of occupationalstandards and qualifications because we are world leaders in this area,”she says. “In the late 1980s, we set out to develop standards and a vocationalqualification framework which would operate from mail room to board room andwould involve all industries. “It’s been very exciting and very frustrating because 15 years laterthe National Occupational Standards have improved immeasurably but they havehardly been used outside the world of NVQs.” While next year’s restructuring provides the ideal opportunity forrelaunching the Standards and NVQs as separate and effective training tools,O’Connor believes ultimate success in meeting the skills challenge lies in athree-way relationship between the Government, the employers and employees. “Government has a role in funding education and training, settingpolicy, developing and implementing initiatives such as the standardsframework,” she says. “There then needs to be a genuine partnership between the industrysector and individual employers in terms of funding, implementing, informingand influencing that policy. “The third part of the triangle is the individual. They must have aclear commitment to learning. The individual has a role to play in finding thetraining they need and investing in their own skills. It’s a three-waypartnership.” Kate O’Connor – the story so far1995 Director of development asSkillset becomes an NTO1993 Skillset – O’Connor worked with director on developing andimplementing industry training strategy as Skillset was launched as an IndustryTraining Organisation1991 Skillset – Founding member. Project director for industryled body, responsible for development of National Occupational Standards, NVQsand SVQs1984 City & Guilds of London Institute – Various rolesculminating in test development manager, managing a team of assessment expertsworking for employers, training providers and first industry-led bodies1982 Manpower Service Commission (Department of Employment),Large Companies Unit – Management of YTS schemes Related posts:No related photos. One to watchOn 1 Jan 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed.