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ASET Chief Speaks

The BBC1 Panorama, while making much of people with a criminal past still working in contract guarding, also highlighted shortcomings in training.

The chief exec of one awarding body offering security qualifications spells out how it enforces standards.

Chris Daniel, chief executive of ASET, raised the January Panorama that proved that such failings do happen. The way the Macclesfield-based training awards body goes about standards begins with the approval of a centre – a college or training company, say, that teaches the course. The documents the centre supplies are ‘effectively a check-list’, Chris Daniel said, ‘So we look at that, we do some desk-top research and because of our experience – we have been doing this for a number of years – you can often smell a rat, if you like; or have some concerns over a centre’s application. Obviously we don’t approve centres where we have any concerns.

"The other mechanism that we use is that centres do have to tell us when they are sitting the exams. Certainly the way the [SIA] licence training works, they usually have the people in for four days and on the fourth day they sit the exam. Effectively we know when the training takes place and they have to tell us; otherwise they can’t get access to the exam. So we do spot checks. We can just turn up and we have the right to sit in on the training to make sure it is delivered within the right time frames" – in the Panorama documentary, a man undercover sitting a door superviser exam, not to do with ASET, found the course took half the time it should have been (and short cutting being a grumble in guarding also) and that during the exam the man could look at course notes. (For the record, the company concerned was Up Front Security of Glasgow, an approved centre of the British Institute of Innkeeping, which said afterwards: “A thorough investigation into allegations of malpractice by Up Front Security has been conducted by BIIAB and we have found no evidence to support them. In co-operation with the company, BIIAB has applied extra measures to reinforce the integrity of the examination process and these continue to be carefully monitored.”)

He added that ASET staff do turn up at the beginning of an exam – ‘because we don’t want to interrupt an exam’. If there are any concerns about malpractice, ‘we do investigate those thoroughly and effectively risk-rate centres if they get into those circumstances’. Professional Security gave another grumble raised, that people with complaints get told by the Security Industry Authority, Skills for Security and awarding bodies that it’s another’s problem. (For the record, the SIA website says: “If you suspect that malpractice has taken place within a training centre a report should be sent to the relevant awarding body and qualifications regulatory authority.” And there are links to the awarding bodies.)

Chris Daniel said that any learners on ASET programmes, and having any concerns around quality or potential compromise of any assessments or exams, ‘they should report that to us’ and ASET would investigate immediately.

Recently McDonalds made the headlines supposedly as about to offer McALevels, the fast food chain being among companies that proposed to go through the process to become an awarding body in their own right. While as Chris Daniel said, it’s not really McALevels, he went on that many more organisations opt to work with an awarding body – rather than having training or IT or finance or other things in-house, outsourcing. Accreditation of in-house learning was a topic at a February seminar on security and stewarding run by ASET in London. Half the day for training providers, a separate half for buyers of training, though a sign of an overlap between the two is that some people asked to attend both halves. To be so accredited you – whether an employer or a training provider – go through a two-part process. First, you become an approved centre. The awards body will look at your quality systems, physical and human resources, to deliver quality and consistent training product. Then, the employer or training provider puts forward the training, which also goes through quality assurance. It may need ‘mapping’ to national occupational standards (Skills for Security is beavering away at various ones). Professional Security raised guarding, thinking of companies in a competitive market seeking to make a living out of offering SIA-licence training to others. A licensable activity has to meet licensing requirements. But as for professional or career development, or ‘enhanced learning’, this is where the awards body can be of benefit to an employer, Chris Daniel suggested. "Clearly, there is research that proves if you have trained your staff you get better motivational levels, better retention levels, and they feel more valued and part of the organisation."

This is where the external accreditation fits in, Chris Daniel suggested. It may be something specific or very specialised to a manufacturing process that only one or two employers require. It may not be security-related, but to do with first aid or health and safety. In a word, it formalises and gives recognition to training. There is a government drive, he mentioned, for employer engagement. First, some background: Prime Minister Gordon Brown in January said for instance: " A generation ago, a British Prime Minister had to worry about the global arms race. Today a British Prime Minister has to worry about the global skills race." British worries about its workers falling short in a world ‘skills race’, being less than fully trained, are hardly new. As chancellor, Gordon Brown spoke of training as Britain’s Achilles heel. So it’s a national issue that private security shares in. At the annual Skills for Security conference in Oxford in November, speakers from the training industry, rather than security specialists, harped on about this. Jaine Clarke, director of skills for employers at the Learning and Skills Council, mentioned the Leitch report on skills, that called for change, else Britain faces a lingering decline and a bleaker future. Strong stuff. Dick Winterton, the new MD of City and Guilds, an ex-Royal Air Force man, spoke of the non-academic half of the UK education system ‘appallingly badly served’. He described a ‘skills poverty trap’, for those entering the workplace with low or no skills. Winterton’s point to his audience of security trainers and employers; you are going to have to do more with the older and ‘economically inactive’ because there are fewer young people entering the job market. Leitch and plenty of other figures in the world of UK training and skills speak of employers, workers and government working together on these common problems.

Chris Daniel said: "I am not convinced that there is a skills gap; what I am convinced of is that we are not very good at recognising skills and talent so therefore what we need to do is sharpen our act up; because there is a lot of good work, a lot of good training that goes on out there, especially in the security sector. I have seen some really good training programmes, providing top quality training and learning; and it’s a case of recognising that learning, and recognising those skills." So yes, while there’s always room to improve, he argues it’s more about putting skills that people already have into (the awarding bodies’?) frameworks.

Stuff about shortages of potential workers to enter the guarding sector, and so the need to up-skill – it’s easy to fall into the jargon of the training world – has been talk of the Skills for Security, previously SITO, conferences for years. It is only fair to wonder what if anything would have changed but for Security Industry Authority licences becoming the law for licensable sectors. Certainly the work involved in training (and refresher training?) hundreds of thousands of door supervisers, guards, CCTV control room operators and so on prompted interest from colleges and awarding bodies. As Chris Daniel recalled, ASET became involved in the security sector about four years ago, with its first qualification for CCTV operators, suggested by Accrington and Rossendale College. ASET now offers qualifications for guards, key-holding and alarm response, spectator safety, and security-related courses such as emergency first aid; and health and safety in the workplace. Originally ASET opted not to offer a qualification for door staff, the awards body feeling that after the peak of training for the original lot of door staff seeking the SIA licence, it would only come into a trough in the market. However, encouraged by its approved centres, ASET has since brought in a door qualification too. Chris Daniel summed up: "So the security sector overall is an area that we want to develop."


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