Shifting Foundations: The Impact of NVQs on Youth Training for the Building Trades

Article excerpt


Following the introduction of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in Yout Training (YT) in 1990, this article reports the consequences of this change for the scope and standards of general education in British courses of initial training for the building trades. Evaluation of these changes is situated withi the wider context of recent (1990) government reform of the financing and statutory basis of youth training programmes in Britain. This article is arranged as follows. Section 1 describes the methodology used in this study and assesses changes in skill requirements in the building industry. Section 2 traces recent developments in government policy for youth training in Britain and examines the origins and implementation of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Section 3 compares the mathematics requirements of City and Guilds and NVQ building qualifications while Section 4 examines problems arising from new modes of assessment and the introduction of output-related funding into Youth Training (YT). Section 5 provides conclusions and policy recommendations.

1. Methodology

For the study of standards and scope of general training for the building trade in Britain it was decided to concentrate on one occupation, bricklaying. This article further concentrates on examining mathematics courses in training for bricklaying. The mathematical syllabuses set out and aimed at in training courses were chosen for detailed study, first because the capacity to measure and calculate accurately is essential to efficient working in the building trades (this was confirmed in interviews with employers) and, second, because comparisons of standards are facilitated by the common symbolic language and notation of mathematics.

The principal data employed in this study are national statistics on numbers attaining qualifications, the mathematics component of recognised training syllabuses, the examinations set by recognised examining bodies in Britain and internal assessment papers supplied to us by individual colleges. These were supplemented by observation of classes of trainees in three different Colleges of Further Education in the Greater London area, and by discussions with teachers, school inspectors and local employers. It is one of the less well-known features of NVQs that the list of competences to be demonstrated in order to gain an NVQ certificate at a given level is regularly and--in the case of the building qualifications considered here --frequently reviewed and revised. Our first round of visits in Britain took place in 1991 when British Y trainees were working to the provisional NVQ Level 2 specification issued by th Construction Industry Training Board/National Council for Vocational Qualifications (CITB/NCVQ) in 1990. In 1992, a full (revised) NVQ 2 specification for building occupations was issued by the CITB and we subsequently undertook a further round of visits in Britain in 1992. On these visits we discussed with lecturers the changes introduced by the (1992) NVQ Level 2 specification and this revised specification together with lecturers' interpretations was used for the analysis of mathematics content at NVQ Level 2 presented in this article. In fact, the NVQ2 specification considered here is current at the time of publication but is due to be replaced by a revised specification later in 1994. On the basis of enquiries made, we do not anticipate that the revised specification will differ so markedly from the one considered here as to invalidate the main thrust of the points made in this article.

Changes in skill requirements

Technical progress, and in particular the off-site production of pre-fabricated components and the great variety of materials that must be delivered in correct sequence and coordinated on site have profoundly changed the nature of construction activity. A recent study (Gann, 1991) on the skill requirements of the construction sector points out that the skill requirements for employees ar changing rapidly as a result of the technological developments mentioned here; he nevertheless underlines the findings of earlier work: 'increasing emphasis o skills associated with positioning and alignment' means that 'calculation skills, reading drawings and the ability to access information on computers' ar increasingly important at craft and operative level. …