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Training partner - October/November 2019

23 September 2019

A certificate is useful evidence that a person has completed a course, but Gary Fallaize questions whether we can really trust it.

WITH MOST health, safety and environmental management training there is some form of assessment before successful learners are awarded their certificate. For employers this is useful evidence that the course has been completed, but what does the certificate actually prove?

The purpose of the course assessment should be to verify that the specified learning outcomes for a course have been met and the way this is achieved varies depending on awarding body, level of training, type of course etc.

I once attended a one day safety course, very dull teaching, we were lectured on various facts for 6 hours and at the end of the course we were given 30 minutes to complete a multiple choice assessment where we had to recall the facts drummed into us during the day. I passed, got my certificate but came away with little, if any, useful knowledge and no real understanding of application. The problem with the course was that the tutor was teaching for the assessment and had no real interest in anything other than his “pass rate”. I still have my certificate but retain absolutely no knowledge from the course day. As far as the issue of the certificate is concerned they have all the paperwork, “boxes ticked”, and I have a valid meaningful certificate.

Teaching to the assessment remains an ongoing issue with some HSE training, with pass rates more important than developing the learners skills and application of the knowledge gained. I can see the problem, tutors and training providers have to prove their competence by learners passing the assessment and learners get very unhappy when they fail. Over the years RRC have analysed customer satisfaction and there is a notable shift in feedback from the end of the training to the receipt of assessment results. Those who really enjoyed the course changed their view when they failed the assessment and vica versa.

However, the purpose of training should not be to teach people how to pass an assessment, this really should be a by-product of competent training where knowledge and understanding is well delivered. Going back to my experience, I passed but learnt nothing so my certificate has no real value.

Assessment must be appropriate to the subject matter, learning outcomes and learners abilities but should fairly test understanding and not just regurgitation of facts. I would expect multiple choice or short answer questions as part of the assessment for a shorter course; but these can be constructed to test understanding, and there is always the opportunity for a short practical application such as simple hazard spotting exercises or a more complex written practical assignment.

For the higher level qualification courses assessment has to be more rigorous, testing both the knowledge and its application to the appropriate level. These types of courses are more relied on by employers and membership bodies, so they must be confident that the assessment is not only appropriate but has been carried out fairly. Learners ingenuity when it comes to cheating in exams, coursework and projects is remarkable, I am certain that if some learners put as much effort into learning as to working out ways to cheat they would probably pass the assessment the correct way anyway! The problem this “cheating” creates is the myriad of controls put in place to prevent and detect it. Some awarding bodies do this far better than others so we must assume that a small number of cheats succeed. What is worrying is that in disciplines such as safety or environmental management we really don't want people with certificates they did not earn, as this can have detrimental consequencesThere is a lot of debate as to how assessments should be constructed; exams, coursework, multiple choice and more..In my opinion, the best assessments are a combination of these, testing both that the knowledge has been learnt and understood and that it can also be applied.

Courses themselves have similar and sometimes confusing titles and apparently similar content, but can vary significantly in duration. You would expect far more depth and understanding in a 2 week course, than a similarly titled 2-3 day course, and you would expect the assessment to be more rigorous.

So when you are looking at the myriad of certificates presented by a job applicant, spend sufficient time looking up what they should have learnt and how they were assessed to see if this is the level of knowledge and understanding required for the job at hand. During the interview, ask them about their learning experience and what they can do as a result of completing the course.

For higher level qualifications, it is also worth verifying the certificate with the awarding body. For a few hundred dollars you can get most recognised certificates online, they're called “novelty”, this is the marketing term for fakes, (very good copies) and more common than you would think.

There are many very good courses, training providers and certificate holders out there. There are also many opinions as to the “best” course and “best” method of assessment, but what hits the top of the Google searches can be subjective, with little evidence to support the claims made. All HSE courses delivered well and assessed appropriately have value, the question is whether the level of knowledge and understanding, plus experience is right for the job the applicant is applying for.

Gary Fallaize is managing director at RRC. For more information, visit, www.rrc.co.uk