NVQ's in administration: the deskilling of secretaries

Furey, Mary (1994) NVQ's in administration: the deskilling of secretaries. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The role and functions performed by a secretary have changed considerably in the last decade. Such changes have evolved over time due to the changing industrial environment but perhaps more spectactularly because of computerised innovations. However, findings indicate that not all change has been positive nor beneficial in terms of secretaries findingemployment. Employers were found to expect prospective secretarial employees to have Touch Typing skills, especially for senior positions.
Data collected from Secretarial Recruitment Agencies indicate that the average touch typing speed required for a junior position is 44wpm, while 57wpm is required for a senior position.
Teachers interviewed confirmed that they teach the skill of touch typing to all students enroled on an NVQ Business Administration course. However, this particular skill is not specified in the performance criteria or range statements, or indeed required to obtain an NVQ in Business Administration. Teachers interviewed believe that it is essential for a candidate to have such a skill. In fact, several of the teachers interviewed confirmed that they also give such candidates an opportunity to complete an RSA qualification in either Typewriting or Word Processing. They believe that candidates will benefit from such a qualification when seeking employment, although current FEFC funding allocations does not necessarily support such opportunities.
Therefore candidates completing an NVQ in a college receive additional training in the acquisition of touch typing skills in anticipation of employer requirements. What then is the situation with candidates who complete their NVQ through other training orginsations or in the workplace? Training Organisations receive additional funding for their performance in terms of the number of NVQ qualifications obtained by trainees. Anything in addition to the prescribed NVQ units are at the discretion of the teacher/trainer. However, should the acquisition of any skill depend on the goodwill of the teacher/trainer involved?
A total of 202 NVQ candidates were surveyed, 57% stated they expected a senior secretary to have a touch typing speed of 60wpm. See Appendix 8 for an analysis of the data collected from teachers, candidates and Lead Body members. It is conceivable that as trainees these candidates would aspire to have such a keyboard speed in the future. Again, 73% indicated that they would be in favour of separate NVQ qualifications for secretarial candidates. Are existing candidates disillusioned with the secretarial content of their NVQ programme?
Data collected from members of the Administration Lead Body (ALB) indicate that overall they do not place much emphasis on this skill. Yet 90% of members indicated that they would like to employ a secretary who could touch type at a speed of 60wpm. However, such an individual will not acquire this skill or speed purely through obtaining an NVQ.
However, there are several Lead Body members who support the inclusion of touch typing skills within an appropriate unit of an NVQ. One member commented that "the ALB is becoming more aware of the importance to industry of Secretarial skills,
but needs further prodding".
According to NCVQ/Lead Body publications, all existing qualifications will in future be part of the NCVQ framework. The Administration Lead Body (ALB) currently make all the decisions in relation to the NVQ standards for the Administration / Secretarial sector. The ALS 'Information Sheet': June 1993 pointed out that "the ALB is carrying out a comprehensive review
of the existing standards at NVQ/SVQ levels 1 to 3 and developing others, as required, appropriate for a level 4 NVQ/SVQ in
administration. A thorough consultation (field test) was conducted from February to May 1993 to evaluate the draft standards and gualifications framework.
The ALB pilot exercise involved 11 90 pilot sites which represent all geographical areas, occupational sectors, types
and sizes of organisations". Wendy Nash in 'The art of being awkward' TES 3 December 1993, points out that in the pilot scheme "in Croydon, only one employer had been involved in the consultation exercise commissioned by the Lead Body. This organisation reported that the consultation questionnaire had been so large and time-scale so short that they had felt unable to respond".
Another factor which is not readily disclosed by the ALB is that no centre actually piloted a full award. Centres were allowed to select the units they felt they could deliver in the time specified. The interviews carried out as part of this project show that none of the FE colleges surveyed in Lancashire received a 'consultative questionnaire' in relation to the proposed new standards.
Colleges are amongst the largest training providers, yet the pilot was carried out from May to September, when most college Lecturers would have been unavailable for 6 weeks. The draft standards for Level 1 and 2 were adopted and sent to NCVQ in February 194.
There are therefore several areas of concern such as:
- Secretarial candidates do not have an NVQ designed for their occupational area, they have to take a generic administration NVQ. While 'administration' forms an important part, its exclusivity is at the expense of secretarial skills;
- The revised 'Administration' Levels 1 and 2 only offer the secretarial candidate optional units;
- Organisations receive more funding for NVQ Administration courses than for Royal Society of Arts (RSA) single subject awards;
- Several students now taking an NVQ in a college also have RSA single subject awards in order to acquire the necessary secretarial skills for employment;
- There is no GNVQ in this occupational area and none is planned.
One Awarding Body has recently formed a working party to investigate the possibility of combining existing NVQ5 with RSA Single subject awards to form an 'alternative' qualification to the existing NVQ5 in this occupational area.
Administration skills touch a wide variety of occupational sectors. The NVQ5 in Administration are therefore generic. A candidate who wishes to specialise in 'administration' is well catered for. However, a candidate who wishes to specialise in secretarial work, ie touch typing, shorthand, audio etc, is offered a generic administration qualification with optional units
to cover the secretarial subjects. However, due to FEFC funding poliby, a candidate may choose only one option.
Therefore a candidate could not do, for example, shorthand and audio. The skill of touch typing is deemed not to be necessary in this technological age by the ALB, therefore it is excluded completely. However this research will show that it is a skill still valued by employers, teachers and students.

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