The New Year will see the launch of the first nationally recognised qualifications for contaminated land remediation professionals. The initiative marks a coming of age for the sector, which continues to employ thousands in the UK despite the economic woes, downturn in development activity and public spending cuts.
The qualifications have been developed by contaminated land industry body, CLAIRE (Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments).
As a non-profit organisation, CLAIRE has long encouraged take-up of contaminated land technologies, the maintenance of high standards and the dissemination of information.
It also has a track record of providing training to those in the industry.
Last September, CLAIRE was granted the status of an awarding organisation by the UK qualifications regulator, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), (ENDS Report 430, p 26).
It has also gained the backing of Energy & Utility Skills, one of a series of privately led, but government-licensed, UK sector skills councils.
As a result, and after two years’ preparation, the CLAIRE Qualifications Board (CLQB) will launch in early 2011.
CLQB has grown out of an ongoing, industry-wide goal of further raising standards and confidence in the sector’s work. Building on the government’s 2008 Brownfield Skills Strategy, it aims to raise the skills and qualifications of the sector’s workforce.
“We wanted to find new ways of raising reassurance about contaminated land, and skills are important in this,” explained Jane Garrett, CLAIRE’s chief executive. She added that CLQB hoped to become a recognised “centre of excellence in contaminated land, with high standards”.
During the board’s development, CLAIRE undertook regular dialogue with groups such as the Soil and Groundwater Technology Association (SAGTA), Specialist in Land Condition (SiLC) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), as well as individual industry experts.
SiLC offers the main existing ‘standard’ for contaminated land professionals.
Its framework is about giving direction to people’s career progression, defining what subjects and levels they are expected to work to within certain jobs and roles.
CLQB qualifications, through exams, will offer another method for people to prove they have achieved these levels and so would sit alongside other forms of continuing professional development.
The qualifications will offer individuals national recognition for their skills and a basis for career progression.
They will also offer a tool to organisations operating in the contaminated land sector, enabling verification of individuals’ standards, competencies and skills. “The provision of skills is vital to those working in the industry, as is the need to raise recognition of them,” says Nicholas Willenbrock, CLQB manager, “and we’re providing tailor-made qualifications for the industry.”
The organisation will continue to be industry-responsive, work closely with it and cater for its needs. And through greater skills provision and recognition, employers can gain greater confidence when recruiting staff.
But the focus on skills and exams brings wider benefits too. “It brings benefits to everybody: individuals, employers and clients,” says Mr Willenbrock. “It raises standards and the level of service delivered; employers can have greater certainty in their staff and employees can more clearly define and develop their abilities and skills and plot their career progression.”
Initial dialogue between CLQB and industry partners identified subject areas where qualifications could be offered. From these, it was decided the first three would be contaminated land site management, process engineering for remediation methods, and spill response.
CLQB has been developing the assessment arrangements for the qualifications and submitting them for accreditation. All will have a particular focus on competence and safety-related issues, with the first assessments planned for spring 2011.
“We identified a particular appetite for service protection and sampling qualifications,” says Ms Garrett. “It’s a good place to start, because it brings in health and safety, quality control and other issues.” In time, this will lead to a larger site management qualification.
For CLAIRE, the launch of the awarding organisation represents an expansion of its role. The wider organisation will continue its core activities, while CLQB will operate as a distinct branch, wholly detached from CLAIRE’s training division.
CLQB’s role will entail running the assessment processes and awarding the qualifications. Indeed, Ofqual demands as much. And as the awarding organisation, CLQB will choose the units for inclusion in their qualifications. But it may work in tandem with other bodies in doing so.
A quality and governance group will oversee its activities. Comprising Mr Willenbrock, chief examiners, moderators and industry experts, its aim is to ensure high standards are maintained. It will be supported by industry experts and an independent referee.
Meanwhile, CLAIRE’s existing training unit will develop training materials, complementing the assessments and qualifications being offered.
But other industry training providers are not excluded. They may also develop and offer courses and materials geared towards the CLQB assessments. And companies’ in-house training schemes can provide an alternative way to prepare for the assessments.
Alternatively, if candidates believe they know the syllabus, they can register with CLQB and take exams and assessments, without having to attend training courses.
CLQB will run under the new Qualification Credit Framework (QCF), the system for all nationally recognised qualifications. QCF is but one way of benchmarking knowledge and skills, but it is regarded as a highly reliable method of quality control.
Foundations for qualifications
It is a unit-based framework, defining the learning outcomes and assessment criteria and providing the foundations for qualifications awarded through it.
Under the QCF system, candidates accumulate credits as they pass assessments, leading towards a particular level of nationally recognised qualification.
Through additional learning, passing further assessments and gaining additional units, a candidate may gain a higher level of qualification.
Initially, CLQB will run assessments at level 3 or 4 of the framework. These are the most appropriate for newcomers to the sector and for those with a less involved role, requiring only a basic understanding or competency in the subject.
In time, and depending on demand, CLQB may look to expand the coverage, to include units at the higher QCF levels, 6 and 7. But it will take time, explained Ms Garrett. “It will be two to five years before we have a full suite of qualifications. We’ll start small and build up – from award, to certificate to diploma.”
The nature of assessments will depend on the subject matter being covered and what the examiners deem appropriate. And they may take several forms, including short answer exams, longer, essay-based exams, multiple choice questions, oral examinations, vivas, portfolios and practical examinations. Moreover, qualifications can be tailored to an individual’s or company’s needs.
Professional development schemes
And qualifications awarded through CLQB will dovetail with existing professional development schemes operating in the sector. Indeed, the organisation will work in tandem with relevant professional bodies, by providing a means for their members to acquire and benchmark knowledge and skills related to brownfield activities.
CLQB qualifications will also assist the professional bodies in assessing their members’ achievements. Moreover, by encouraging the transfer of core knowledge, and the taking of exams that proves it, CLQB will be supporting the professional development of staff, in the early years of their career.
Candidates will pay an administration fee for each assessment taken, on top of which will be a registration scheme, requiring an annual fee. But CLQB aims to make taking exams affordable, and on a par with qualification schemes in similar industries. “We need to do this in an economic way,” says Ms Garrett, “but in any case, there are sound commercial reasons for individuals and companies to do this.”
And, because qualifications may be taken without attendance on training courses, if, for example individuals have gained the required knowledge independently or via their work, the demands on organisations’ training budgets need not be prohibitively high.
Qualifications will be recognised initially, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In time, and where demand is proven, the awarding organisation’s remit could be extended to Scotland. Indeed, the organisation has a long-term, wide vision. “The numbers initially will be small, but they’ll pick up,” says Ms Garrett. “We want to raise the appetite for taking exams, reach out, and get the message across to the estimated 10,000 people working in our industry.”
“As it takes off, taking exams becomes a matter of pride and offers a competitive edge for companies, and that’s when it starts to have legs,” says Ms Garrett.
And, while CLQB’s initial focus is qualifications in contaminated land, coverage may extend to other brownfield sector activities, in the longer term.
Given sufficient momentum, demand and resources, exams and assessments in further areas may be developed. Again, CLQB will work closely with industry in progressing them. As yet, there are no definite plans beyond the subject areas that have already been developed. “But it’s ‘open door’ regarding other ideas,” says Ms Garrett. “We’ll concentrate on these first three ideas initially, get them right and develop from there.”