Skills are the critical missing factor in the UK's quest to improve productivity in what is an increasingly competitive global market.
This is the view of David McHattie, chief operating officer at People 1st, the Sector Skills Council for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries that is developing a national skills strategy for the sector.
Skills are built through education, whether at school, in the workplace, at college or at university. The purpose of qualifications is to accredit the skills learned by the individual learner.
Qualifications should, therefore, equal skills but, as many industry figures have pointed out throughout our research, this is not always the case.
Employers continually question whether qualifications meet the industry standard and, indeed, which skills they represent. Increasingly, they state that their expectations are not being met.
The modular college-based NVQs for chefs is an example when an industry has no idea what the qualification or qualifications represent. That is, until the "graduate" enters the workplace and expectations of skills levels fall short of the needs and requirements of both employer and employee.
Industry needs one college-based qualification that satisfies two criteria.
First, employers need to understand them and know what skills are evidenced by the individual's certificate. This should represent the industry standard.
Second, they should provide learners with the best possible foundation from which to develop their careers along with a recognisable qualification valued in the workplace
There once was a City & Guilds qualification suite called 706. Everyone knew what it meant, what the individual had leant, what they were capable of doing and in what areas they would need to be developed on entering the workplace.
Unfortunately, 706 became old and its health and support weakened. Thirteen years ago it was put to sleep.
As David Nicholls, executive chef at Mandarin Oriental, laments, "706 was ill, it needed evolution not euthanasia".
NVQs were never intended to be delivered in college and now we have a qualification which does not provide the learner or the industry with the clear benchmarked learning standard needed.
People 1st's role is to ensure that education provides industry with the skills it needs and we have conducted in-depth research with both employers and colleges nationwide.
Our research has unearthed a raft of reasons behind the lack of basic cooking skills of many college leavers. These include the NVQ qualification itself (which was never designed for delivery within college), the lack of a national curriculum run by all colleges, and inadequate government funding.
We have worked with employers to lay down the outline of a suitable qualification to deliver chef skills in college and have worked with all awarding bodies to ensure that only one qualification will be developed.
This will ensure there is national consistency and a nationally-recognised benchmark that is similar in principle to the old City and Guilds 706 suite of qualifications.
The resultant qualification is now in development with City and Guilds and will be piloted in September.
Having put chefs' skills at the heart of the National Skills Strategy being developed, we are now working with the Government to ensure the new qualification is available and adequately funded.
The Government's commitment to this can be measured by the millions of pounds invested every year in skills development, by its support of your Sector Skills Council (People 1st), and by the mandate to develop our sector's first ever National Skills Strategy.
We need your support to ensure that the funding bodies provide the pilots planned for September with the appropriate level of funding to ensure both industry and young talent get the qualification and skills they need for the future of this growing vibrant sector.
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