The NSA: ready to go
The National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure was officially launched in November. In the first of a series of articles for The Leisure Review Florence Orban explains how the academy will work and what it means for the sport and active leisure sector
The official launch of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure marks a significant step forward in delivering the vision of an active, sporting nation.
It is widely accepted that to achieve this vision we need more people working in the sector, with better skills and better qualifications. As the new gold standard for industry training, the skills academy will address this skills gap by providing a single coherent approach. And by ensuring that all training, qualifications and careers are employer-led and employer-directed, we will achieve better quality, more targeted training as well as improved access to training funds.
Thanks to the time, expertise and investment from a host of employers, governing bodies of sport and partners, the skills academy has already come a long way in two years – from an idea, to a project and now a company open for business.
To date we have raised almost £6 million of investment and are on course to raise £10 million more, from what is often seen as a poor industry; a large voluntary sector in sport and playwork; a highly competitive fitness market, now consolidating; and certainly no multinational with deep reserves.
The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is also providing a significant contribution to help the skills academy achieve its target to be self-sustainable within three years. We welcome this investment very much, yet the industry is investing £4 for every £1 the government is giving us. This is because we know what is needed to make our workforce better skilled, our organisations better performing and our sector more professional.
Currently potential learners have to choose from around 490 existing qualifications specific to our sector and these have historically been delivered through an uncoordinated mix of providers. It can be very confusing and makes it difficult for individuals to be sure they are signing up for courses that will provide them with the best chance of employment post-qualification.
The news is not much more positive for those already working within the sector. Top line statistics show that 64 per cent of managers do not feel they have the business and management skills they need to do their jobs, and 79 per cent of front-line staff do not have the customer service skills required. So it is clear that we have some key challenges to face.
Those who work or volunteer in the sport and active leisure sector deserve to have the necessary skills and they need to know what the industry offers in terms of career opportunities and how these can be accessed.
The skills academy will link the industry, creating an opportunity for individuals, employers, training providers and government to buy in to what the industry has created in terms of frameworks, qualifications and standards. It is a much-needed resource which will provide individuals and employers access to information on quality training providers who will meet their training needs.
We can bring clarity and simplicity to a fragmented and confused training market by linking existing partners and making access to information easier and more obvious. Within the next three years we aim to be the one place that anyone will go to who wants to work in sport and active leisure, or who wants to progress their career.
I see the skills academy as the home for the best. We want the best training providers to be part of our network. We need to be creative by delivering new courses and we need to innovate by meeting previously unmet demand, for example by giving access to people where there was no provision before and offering online courses for those too busy to take time out to attend a course. The development of partnerships will be vital to the delivery of truly work-based training. And we must capitalise on experience by only utilising tutors, educators and teachers with up-to-date industry knowledge.
We know that one of our biggest challenges is recruitment. We can help employers to get recruits with the right skills and at the same time cut recruitment costs. Many small businesses are unaware that rather than recruit one person, they could have two or three apprentices for the same cost, with the added benefit of training and moulding them with their specific company values and ethos. In addition, we can aggregate demand to negotiate with providers, and also with funders, so that training budgets go much further.
The 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games bring a wealth of opportunities to our sector. They will put us on the map with government and the public as well as raise interest in not only the athletes but also the coaches, stewards, referees and the whole support system for sport. We must have the structure and organisation in place to meet expectations. Significantly, the skills academy will be integral to the legacy of the Games and we are delighted that our national and London offices will move to Legacy Park after the event.
Innovation and quality are the key factors underpinning everything we do at the National Skills Academy. We must demonstrate where we add value so that everyone can buy into the vision of a one stop shop. However, we cannot make it happen on our own. We need employers and training providers to continue to engage with us – in our governance, in shaping our operational plans, in buying services and training through the skills academy and in asking providers they work with if they are part of it. And if not, why not? Why are they not buying into our aspirations of a more professional, better qualified sector, with employers in the driving seat? Why are they missing out on the benefits that other providers already enjoy: better routes to employers and individuals, increased demand and a badge of quality?
By working together we can help all those who work and volunteer in the industry become truly better at their work, more confident, more effective, more productive and more successful.
The National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure is a unique opportunity. Quite simply, it will ensure that anyone involved in the sector is better placed to undertake their role or job and to progress to whatever level they have the aspiration and ability to achieve.
Florence Orban is the interim chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. The National Skills Academy can be found online at www.sportactivensa.co.uk
The Leisure Review, December 2008
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