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How SELECT and BSE Skills are pointing the way

As a key player in BSE Skills Ltd, SELECT has already helped the new joint venture complete its first contract as it embarks on its mission to set the standard on skills

The new venture between SELECT, the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) is already pointing the way ahead for skills development.

BSE Skills Ltd has been appointed to manage and develop apprenticeships, qualifications and National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the building services engineering sector across the UK. After completing its first contract, the venture is breaking new ground as it’s the first time trade bodies have received a government commission to carry out this work.

Until 2017, the managing body was the government-sponsored sector skills council, SummitSkills. Now Skills Development Scotland (SDS) – who has the responsibility on behalf of the UK to maintain and update NOS – has awarded BSE Skills a contract as a delivery partner to oversee and manage the review and updating of the sector’s occupational standards, on which sector qualifications are based.

These NOS will be used by devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Westminster government, and BSE Skills has the responsibility to make sure there’s a secure future for vocational training in these crucial sectors.

A close relationship

During the bidding process, the associations were able to demonstrate close links with employers as well as UK-wide capacity through an established network of key partners, including the Electrical Contractors’ Association and the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors.

Fiona Harper, Head of Employment Affairs at SELECT and The Secretary of the SJIB, said: “We have a long history of working with SNIPEF and BESA, and wanted to continue and develop our relationships. We saw an opportunity so began looking into becoming a delivery partner. The whole reason for doing this is that we want self-determination for our industries. We know our sectorand members’ needs and each organisation has very strong relationships with employers.”

Consistency is key

Regulators are keen to see consistent standards across the UK. Likewise, SELECT, SNIPEF and BESA have identified a need to establish mutual recognition and transportability of all BSE qualifications across the UK and to recognise the needs of each industry and each region.

Accordingly, BSE Skills has been specifically designed to be a lean organisation. It has just three directors – one from each body – and employs Alan McDonald as an Operations Manager on a consultancy basis. Among other things, Alan has the task of preparing BSE Skills documentation, leading the review and development work and interfacing with government departments, such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), SDS, Qualifications Wales and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy.

He said: “The main thing is to make sure industry has its say. The best people to ask about the qualifications are the users, that is the employers, apprentices and providers who know these things more intimately than most. During our work we’ve communicated directly with more than 250 separate organisations across the UK. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the partnerships we have.

“We keep a very tight grip on project control and are very focused on NOS, qualifications and the apprenticeships frameworks.”

BSE Skills received its first contract on 31 August 2018 to review 44 national occupational standards to make sure they were up to date, accurate and complete in accordance with the requirements of industry. This work was successfully completed on schedule on 31 March 2019. Fiona emphasised that the next challenge for the organisation is to win the follow-up contract. This will move things on, looking at qualifications and is likely to focus specifically on the devolved nations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We think we have a good chance to win this contract,” she said. “We have been receiving good feedback on the work that we have done so far.”

Increasing engagement

Meanwhile, Duncan Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Training at SNIPEF, said: “BSE Skills is working well, it has a good structure for employer engagement and key stakeholder involvement covering all four administrations of the UK.

“This enables it to piggyback on existing meeting and employer engagement structures, making it much easier for our members to contribute.

“It has a long-term future as the guardian of NOS and their related qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks with the sector as a whole across the UK, built on employer and key stakeholder engagement.”

Iain McCaskey, Head of BESA Scotland and Northern Ireland, added: “We are grateful to the UK governments for recognising the value that industry bodies can bring to vocational training. It has been extremely heartening to see three complementary bodies working closely together to address the skills shortages in our industry.”

Significantly, employers who are not members of the three trade bodies regularly have the opportunity, through the industry training providers, to provide comment and feedback on issues relating to skills and apprenticeships. This approach means BSE Skills has access to all relevant employers across the UK who have an interest in the NOS, qualifications and apprenticeship frameworks.

There is general agreement that establishing BSE Skills was a wise move. “It serves the industry well,” said Fiona. “In the long run, our members are going to be more engaged. We all want to develop standards, qualifications and apprenticeships that deliver the type of skilled people employers are looking for and the future of the industry will need.”

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