ASSOCIATES (vol. 2, no. 2, November 1995) -

Table of Contents

What Is An NVQ?


In-Service Training - One Year On


Jim Jackson
Principal Library Assistant
University of Exeter

Last year, in the November 94 issue of _ASSOCIATES_, I published an article on in-service training. In this follow-up article I would like to share with you what has happened since and where, as a university, we hope to be going in terms of training for staff. We do not claim to have solved all the problems but do show that progress can be made in this area.

When I returned from my staff exchange visit to Southampton University last year, I came back to Exeter with a whole collection of ideas, some of which related directly to the procedures we had here and contrasted with those in Southampton, while others led on to requests to extend my knowledge of other areas.

In-service training has always been somewhat small scale, with some industries providing internal teaching structures, and others who just plain ignored it! Now we have moved on - and there is a series of qualifications which are nationally recognized and encouraged, called National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). These have been set up and approved by the National Vocational Council of Britain. These can be, and generally are, worked-based and are organized through staff development units or by local further education colleges.

They are designed to be carried out in the workplace by staff who may not have formal qualifications but have successfully held jobs which require a good competence factor. The word "competence" is all important on these types of courses, as it shows an assessor and external examiner that you can prove you are competent to carry out a variety of tasks.

Each course is divided into units and each unit is divided into elements, which together make up the whole qualification. To complete a unit you will be asked to provide evidence that you have completed what was asked for in the Range Statement. This is lists exactly what is required in the way of evidence. The evidence should consist of memos received requesting a response, a copy of your response, and possibly a copy of work completed. This will, in due course, lead to a sizable collection of papers. But where units cover the same or similar ground, it is possible to cross reference units. This does not mean that you do not have to do the unit, but that the same evidence can be reused provided it can be shown to be relevant. There is a growing number of subject areas which are now covered by courses - press photography, business administration, management and customer care, to name but a few.

As a guide to what to expect for each unit, shown below is a copy of the level 3 NVQ for the Business Administration course. It lists what is expected to complete the whole unit and the range of evidence that is required to support it.

                              Level 3 NVQ Unit 2.2

        2.2          Locate and abstract information from unspecified sources

        2.2.1       The correct sources are identified for specific information requests

        2.2.2       Specified information needs are promptly researched

        2.2.3       The relevant elements of information are abstracted correctly

        2.2.4       Where potential or available sources are exhausted without success, this is reported to the principal.

        2.2.5       All information contents are checked for accuracy and relevance

        2.2.6       Safe working practices are always followed and implemented

        2.2.7       Security and confidentiality procedures are always followed and implemented

Now the Range Statement for this unit states:


Statistics, narratives, graphics, tables, and photographs. Unspecified sources. Internal and external to the organization public documents including statistics, timetables, manual and computer files, books, listings, microfiche and trade manuals.

At first sight, all of this looks daunting, but consider what they are looking for, then think what you do every day. Look up train timetables, check stock records on your own database, do CD-ROM database searches - all these things can be used.

Nationally there are plans to introduce, in the very near future, a Library NVQ. Level 1 covers basic learning skills, and Level 2 covers enhanced basic skills which would be based on levels of competence which a junior library assistant might have. Levels 3 and 4 would be for library assistants and senior library assistants with supervisory and advanced skills, with plans to introduce a Level 5 for management posts at a later date.

The upper levels of this new course would be equivalent to that of a one year library school qualification and degree course. Exeter is at the forefront in this respect and hopes to be able to run this Library NVQ at the earliest opportunity. We have been selected to run, with other universities, a pilot scheme which is hoped to commence in late September/early October 1995.

The plans for the new course for Level 3 are not fully detailed yet, but a matrix has been released which is shown below:

        Mandatory Units:

               1.    Provide information/materials to user
               2.    Organize information/materials
               3.    Solve problems on behalf of customers
               4.    Maintain services and operations to meet quality standards

Other units cover user services, information technology and processing, and supervisory activities. Full details can be obtained from

NVQs rely on a system of internal assessors and the external verifiers. The internal assessors would need to pass a course, with a nationally accepted qualification at the end, that would show they are able to assess people's ability to complete various tasks and to assemble evidence to prove it. On completion of the course, the whole portfolio is submitted to the Assessment Centre for the external verifier to examine. Provided they agree with the internal reports, the portfolio is passed and a certificate is provided. Most courses can be completed within 12 to 18 months, but the system does allow for more time to be taken.

A variety of differed "lead bodies" made up of interested professional bodies and associations set up the course standards.

In the case of the Library NVQ, the Library Association has overseen the implementation of the course standards.

NVQs are an agreement between the employee and employer to provide you with the course and allow you to complete it by providing any necessary training, and for you to provide the employer with a better trained employee, able to provide a better service to the "customer". Each course will contain some tasks for the employee to complete and show competence in which they may not deal with normally. Here the employer will be expected to provide training or an opportunity to attend training sessions so that you can complete the unit. If you find that you are able to complete a course without any training then you should be able to complete a higher level course. After all, the idea of an NVQ is to provide in-service training with a purpose! As an example, the Business Administration course is one that a number of library staff could complete. I have completed Levels 2 and 3 and found them appropriate for my job. There were items I needed to receive training for and did receive it. While any course or agreement covers the need for the employer to provide training, it does not provide endless "time off" to complete the course. An agreed "reasonable" amount of time may be decided, but don't hope to complete it all in work time. There will have to be a certain amount of "midnight oil" burnt.

As for our own in-house training, we have developed and are still developing our own service manuals. These are designed for new staff to work from, including basic "how to" instructions as well as a list of do's and don'ts. These are also useful for long term staff being redeployed and changing departments. We have also started to exploit the talents of our own staff. A number of our senior staff have been giving seminars on aspects of library usage for years to academic staff and students. These seminars cover such things as databases and the location of materials. It is now planned to hold several of these specifically for library staff over a period of time to allow all staff to attend.