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Government plans to expand professional standards schemes

The government has outlined plans to expand professional standards schemes like Licence to Practise as part of its drive to enhance the status of skills. Speaking to the associate parliamentary skills group, skills minister John Hayes said that coherent professional standards were central to the government’s overall skills agenda. “This is critically about driving the status of skills. It is about understanding that we can’t recalibrate worth if we don’t take seriously the accreditation of standards required in practical, technical and vocational skills,” he stressed.

The proposed extension of the Licence to Practise scheme has significant implications. Not only will industry have a deeper understanding of the skills of their workforce, but it could also have an impact on individual employees and their approach to work. “Gaining a licence to practise in a certain field can have a big effect on people’s purpose and pride – an important component of any society,” Hayes said. “Many people take a pleasure and a pride from having a purpose they enjoy which is measured, tested and accredited.”

Official accreditation schemes act as an incentive for employees to gain new skills, and lead to a greater sense of career fulfilment across the workforce, argued Hayes. However, he said the government was aware of potential problems, notably that of excluding people from the workforce. “The difficulty is that once you license something, or create professional standards, you do by nature make it more exclusive,” he acknowledged. “Whilst this is in many ways a virtue, the government is having to wrestle with creating greater exclusivity in a way that doesn’t build barriers to entry.”

The minister said that employers would have an important role to play in promoting and regulating the scheme, an approach which he suggested would both improve efficiency and ensure its overall effectiveness. Terry Watts, CEO of Proskills, believes professional standards schemes have an important part to play in the wider agenda of skills development. “Schemes like licence to practise give employees a framework for personal development, and the knowledge that they will be recognised by the company and the wider industry for picking up new skills, which in turn enhances their future career prospects,” he said.

The chair of the select committee on business, innovation and skills, West Bromwich West MP Adrian Bailey, also agreed that there was a pressing need to expand the licence to practise scheme. “The UK, by all assessments, is going to need a higher-skilled workforce in the future,” he said. “The need for some degree of licence to practise is going to get greater and greater as technology and consumer expectations change.”