In the April 2015 print edition of Risk UK, we carried an extremely interesting article by Industry Qualifications’ CEO Raymond Clarke designed to stimulate discussion and thinking around improvements that could be made to training and assessment practices for Security Industry Authority licence-linked qualifications. Here, Stuart Galloway delivers some thought-provoking responses to the points raised.
From my perspective, I’m not so sure that I would agree with Industry Qualifications CEO Raymond Clarke’s assertion that most of the training and assessment in the security sector is carried out to either a good or high standard (‘Controls on Security Training and Assessment: Why they must be strengthened’, Risk UK, April 2015, pp58-59). That, I feel, is something of an assumption as there’s no real evidence available to support such a statement.
My experience of recruiting tutors for Security Industry Authority (SIA)-focused training courses was that in excess of 60% of those interviewed were not suitable for a variety of reasons, including doubts around sector competency and even their ability to teach. To be frank, a considerable number came across as ‘PowerPoint slide readers’.
Further, I’m not certain I would fully agree it’s widely acknowledged that assessment in the security sector is ‘high risk’. If this is the case, why are awarding organisations not doing anything about it within the terms of their own quality control measures?
Does the security sector suffer from an over-supply of training provision? The simple answer is: ‘Yes’, but you have to look at who approved that level of provision. Yes, that’s right. It was the awarding organisations.
Ridiculously low course prices have been an issue for over ten years. It’s not a new phenomenon within the security sector. Why, then, is this issue not part of the due diligence process carried out by awarding organisations? If it were then that would possibly afford an indication of the company applying to be a training centre. If they’re charging a ridiculous price for their course then there’s an issue with quality somewhere inside that operation.
Providers must be responsible
To my way of thinking, Raymond is being slightly unfair in highlighting employability programmes as an increased risk. I would lay the responsibility for recruitment squarely with the training provider. Provided, of course, that they’re following the correct procedures in learner engagement, there should be no real increased risk about which to be concerned.
At least part of the problem lies in basic skills testing. From my own experiences as an external quality assurer, I know that basic skills testing in centres varies widely. It’s often carried out on the morning of the first day of the course when, ultimately, it’s too late to identify issues and provide any support.
Maybe it’s at this juncture that awarding organisations can provide back-up for centres by having a standardised approach to basic skills testing in place and details of when that testing ought to be carried out. Testing should be conducted in advance of the commencement of the course such that it affords the training provider the necessary information concerning suitability of learners attending the course. This assists with lesson planning in terms of what teaching strategies need to be adopted for the learners on a given course. A practice that, I fear, is very rare indeed.
Cost pressures will always be there no matter what. In order to have an effective quality assurance system you need to go beyond the established norms. Such actions obviously come at a price, but what price can you put on not having an effective system in place?
To some extent, awarding organisations are at the mercy of training providers. If a centre is intent on committing fraud – or, indeed, any other type of offence – then there’s really little the awarding organisation can do until such actions are discovered either through external verification visits or whistleblowing. Personally, at present I don’t believe either of the latter are encouraged to a sufficient enough degree.
In relation to external verification, the norm is at least one annual visit (which may increase depending on registrations). These visits should be stepped up to at least three per annum in respect of security industry-related qualifications – with two of those visits being unannounced – and then perhaps increased still further according to a standardised risk rating orchestrated across all awarding organisations. Yes, this will impact on costs, but again it’s worth asking the question: ‘What price can you put on quality?’
SIA licensing for trainers
The notion of a new category of licence for trainers administered by the SIA is not only very unlikely because of primary legislation, etc but also an unnecessary financial burden. Many training providers are not solely focused on – or indeed wholly reliant upon – the provision of security-related qualifications. That being so, the provision of such a new system may prove unnecessarily complex and costly.
Rather, as part of centre/tutor approvals the awarding organisations should ensure that suitable checks are carried out in relation to fit and proper person tests. Informed decisions can then be taken.
In my experience, the awarding organisations adopt differing approaches to tutor approval ranging from virtually non-existent to robust. The fact remains that such approaches have to – and, indeed, must – be standardised across awarding organisations.
Developing and managing a register
I’ve always been a great advocate of providing a register for tutors, but the $64,000 question is: ‘Who would manage it?’ Let me put forward three proposals that could be workable when it comes to developing and managing a register of training providers and trainers.
First, let’s work with the Education and Training Foundation as its priorities are not dissimilar to those we are trying to attain in the security space. The Foundation also runs a membership scheme which might be adaptable to suit the governance requirements of the private security industry.
Second, why not work with a standards-setting organisation that has no direct interest in the private security industry so as to develop and manage the required registers? An example organisation could be the ‘boutique’ assessment centre EMQC, the present assessors and managers for the respected matrix standard.
Third, we could look to form an Institute for Security Training Professionals represented through a governance Board by way of all awarding organisations with approval to deliver SIA licence-linked qualifications. Funding would be derived through an annual fee from tutors to remain on the Approved Register with awarding organisations paying a levy based on the number of qualifications they provide to the sector.
Awarding organisations would send quarterly reports to the Institute in relation to centre activity, including detail on numbers of learners, achievements – unit by unit as well as overall qualifications – and external verification visits. Alleged incidents of malpractice would be reported on an ‘as and when’ basis.
Sharing of data
Any failure of the qualifications regulators to maintain historical records in relation to malpractice investigations would astound me. This is something that should be in place now across the entirety of the education and training sector. This is not a failing of the security sector but rather one that could be levelled at the awarding organisations for not ensuring that such a system already resides with the qualifications regulators.
Continuing this theme, maintaining statistical data on attendance rates at examinations is a procedure that should already be conducted by awarding organisations. Significant swings in attendance are likely to occur, but in all honesty I fail to see how this would be affected by an unannounced visit.
In order to standardise the reporting of a visit – be it announced or unannounced – the simple answer would be to have a mechanism in place that records the details of those in attendance either during training or an examination. Such detail could then be verified against the course when returned.
Stuart Galloway Cert Ed MIfL Dip RSA is Senior Associate at WSG Associates and a Specialist in Business and Education Support Services