ERIC Identifier: ED383857
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Business/Industry Standards and Vocational Program
Accountability. ERIC Digest No. 157.
Industry skill standards are already in place for many industries in the
United States and in a number of statewide vocational education programs that
serve those industries. The linkage of skill standards between industry and
vocational education hinges on a competency-based approach to education and
training. The effectiveness of this approach has been recognized by other
countries, such as Denmark and Great Britain, that have adopted this process for
establishing their industry skill standards. The National Vocational
Qualifications (NVQs), developed in Great Britain, is one example of
competency-based skill standards used to assess performance. This Digest looks
at the motivations behind the initiation of industry standards and of national
and state skill standards that would provide vocational program accountability.
It examines the competency-based approach to the development of standards in
relation to their effect on vocational education, drawing on reviews of the NVQs
in Great Britain.
WHY INDUSTRIES SET SKILL STANDARDS
The gap between existing
skills and desired or required skills is the basic impetus for the development
of business/industry standards at all levels--local, state, and national. Many
of these standards were developed over time, industry by industry, in response
to competition from other industrialized nations and for the purpose of quality
control. In the early 1970s, for example, automobile manufacturers were finding
that graduates of automotive technology classes were lacking the skills
necessary to work on cars with advanced technology systems. The public, losing
faith in the quality of new car repair, were either not buying new cars or not
buying cars made in the United States. Therefore, to improve worker competence,
the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence began to require that
auto mechanics be certified (Fretwell and Pritz 1994).
Over the years the professional associations of many industries have taken
the initiative in setting skill standards. The American Institute of Certified
Public Accountants, for example, has developed and implemented a national
certification program through which it administers the Certified Public
Accountants exam. The American Welding Society likewise administers tests for
certification of workers in the welding profession. State licensing exams are
used to certify workers in certain occupations as well, e.g., barber and
chauffeur. On a national level, the Federal Aviation Administration has set
standards for air traffic controllers, although in this case public safety is
the primary force driving the action.
THE NEED FOR SKILL STANDARDS IN VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
industry standards are established to improve worker competence and the products
and services the workers provide. This practice has become increasingly relevant
since the early 1980s when it became clear that the jobs of the future would
require higher levels of basic skills in communication, mathematics, science,
and technology. The work force crisis described in AMERICA'S CHOICE: HIGH SKILLS
OR LOW WAGES (Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce 1990) triggered
the demand for accountability. Schools, challenged to improve the quality of
education, were urged to "require all students to meet a high national standard
of general education performance at about age 16" for which they would receive
Certificates of Initial Mastery qualifying them to go on to college and more
technical and professional education (Hudelson 1993, p. 34). The report also
urged the United States to establish technical and professional education
certificates of mastery in various occupational fields to be used to confirm
competency achievement and to reflect the national standards for that field
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act further
defined the need for standards by challenging states and localities to "develop
and implement accountability systems that document the progress of vocational
education students and programs" (Hoachlander 1991, p. 20). Supported by Perkins
funding, many states began to develop standards for assessing the educational
progress of students and programs--standards that were developed under the
direction of business and industry that could lead to worker certification. The
Ohio Department of Education's Ohio Competency Analysis Profiles (OCAPS),
coordinated by the Center on Education and Training at The Ohio State
University, were developed for 40 key occupations through a consensus of
businesses across the state. OCAPS link occupational competencies to basic and
employability skills, which are, in turn, linked to an assessment system. The
profiles are used statewide as a foundation for program improvement (Fretwell
and Pritz 1994).
THE DEVELOPMENT AND USE OF SKILL STANDARDS IN VOCATIONAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Within the U.S. educational system, the
trend toward competency-based education makes it possible to place occupational
standards and certifications within a theoretical framework (Fretwell and Pritz
1994). In a competency-based system, the competencies or skills required in a
given occupation are carefully identified and verified by expert workers from
business and industry who are currently employed in the occupation. During the
process of developing the occupational profiles of required competencies for the
occupation, observable and measurable criteria are established. These criteria
become the performance standards against which competency attainment is
The competency-based approach to the setting and realization of standards of
performance has been used in the United States since the 1970s. British
industries have recently used a competency-based approach to establish the
National Vocational Qualifications (Melton 1994). As the impact of NVQs on
teaching and training increased, so did the controversy about the validity of
NVQs as a basis for assessing performance. Melton gives several recommendations
for ways to strengthen the implementation of competency-based skill standards
based on his review of the implementation of NVQs in Britain:
Give attention to the role of personal motivation in student/worker achievement
of established standards.
Extend the measurement of skills to a higher level that includes integration of
other relevant (core) skills relevant to the performance of the designated skill
Use sampling to measure the performance of candidates within all the various
contexts of the competency area.
Address higher-order thinking skills, e.g., problem solving, interpersonal
skills, numeracy, communication, etc., that allow transfer of knowledge and
skills in other contexts and applications.
Take into account the self-development needs of the individual, not only those
of the industry.
Jenkins et al. (1994) report the findings of a team from the United States
who visited Denmark and Great Britain for 2 weeks in 1993 to study innovations
in the education and training of young people for work. The focus of the study
was to examine the use of standards, assessments, and credentialing in preparing
young people in vocational education programs in Denmark and Great Britain for
work in a global economy. The recommendations for the guidance of vocational
program accountability presented by Jenkins et al. (1994) are as follows (pp.
Establish a single body to oversee the setting of skill standards for all
occupations and industries.
Understand that standards by themselves will not produce lasting, systemic
Begin by building a national consensus about the aims of vocational education.
Use the restructuring of companies around high performance management practices
as a lever for encouraging employers to adopt skill standards for training and
Question the assumption that academic learning leads to superior transferability
of skills and knowledge. Ensure that goals and standards for the system reflect
a balance between theoretical and practical learning.
Rely on standards for what students should be able to do, rather than directives
of how teachers should teach, to drive innovation in teaching.
The recommendations of both Melton (1994) and Jenkins et al. (1994) suggest
the need for the expansion of occupational standards to include the core or
common skills that cut across occupations and affective as well as cognitive
skills. The suggestions of these two reviewers do not negate the utility of the
competency-based approach, but rather call for additional sensitivity to the
total development of the individual in establishing standards.
Although most of the major industrialized nations have established
competency-based national skill standards, some unions and educators are
reluctant to adopt them. Proponents, however, say that "national skill standards
would improve the U.S. workforce and product quality in the global marketplace,
provide better education and more portable employment credentials for American
workers, and increase accountability among schools, teachers, and vocational
programs" (Hudelson 1993, p. 32).
THE BENEFITS FOR BUSINESS/INDUSTRY AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
Hudelson (1993) summarizes the benefits national
skill standards offer workers, employers, teachers, administrators, and state
departments of education:
1. For workers, national skill standards offer the certification of skill
attainment and a recognition of that status by others, especially employers.
Because the standards are national in scope, they are portable, enabling job
mobility across states and, in some cases, around the world.
2. For employers, national skill standards ensure that certified workers will
have a predictable level of competence as measured on a national or worldwide
3. For teachers, national skill standards define the skills and knowledge
that must be taught at various levels to produce a qualified graduate whose
skills are competitive with graduates of other schools. Additionally, standards
make easier and less costly the development of curricula and training modules.
4. For administrators, national skill standards provide a fair means by which
vocational programs in a variety of schools can be evaluated. For example, How
many of their graduates are from certified programs? What percentage can pass
certificate of mastery examinations in their field?
5. Federal administrators can also use the national skill standards as
assessment tools. States can judge which occupational programs meet industry
standards, which percentage of their graduates pass the national standard exam
in their field, and which teachers are able to pass the certificate of mastery
examination for the occupational skills they teach.
IMPLEMENTATION REQUIRES COLLABORATION
implementation of national skill standards is dependent upon the resolution of
several issues (ibid.): UNIONS' FEARS. Unions are reluctant to give up their
gatekeeper role, concerned that this will undermine union apprenticeship
programs and collective bargaining power. SCHOOL/TEACHER ACCEPTANCE. Teachers
are failing to attend workshops or other programs to help them upgrade their
occupational skills and meet a national standard. EMPLOYER DETERMINATION.
Employers within each industry are hesitant about taking the time and leadership
necessary to require their workers to have national certificates of mastery in
occupations for which they exist.
These issues illustrate the need for collaboration among all stakeholders in
a global economy immediately affected by the adoption of national skill
standards--employers, employees, and educators. A shared commitment to the
concept of skill standards and a recognition of the benefits they afford is
necessary for the successful implementation of the standards. Federal support is
also important. The U.S. government is initiating action by offering incentives
for three-way collaboration among these stakeholders. "The U.S. Departments of
Labor and Education are currently sponsoring grants to 22 major industries to
develop national skill standards (occupational, basic, and employability) and
link them to education and training" (Fretwell and Pritz 1994, p. 9).
Commission on the Skills of the American
Workforce. AMERICA'S CHOICE: HIGH SKILLS OR LOW WAGES? Rochester, NY: National
Center on Education and the Economy, 1990. (ED 323 297)
Fretwell, D., and Pritz, S. "Occupational Standards and Certification:
Past-Current-Future Trends in the United States." Paper presented at the
International Conference of the International Research Network for Training and
Development. Milan, Italy, June 1994. (ED 371 137)
Hoachlander, E. G. "Designing a Plan to Measure Vocational Education
Results." VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 66, no. 2 (February 1991): 20-21, 65. (EJ
Hudelson, D. "The Standard Approach: Skill Certification on the Way; Is
Vocational Education Ready?" VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 68, no. 2 (February
1993): 32-34, 51. (EJ 456 766)
Jenkins, D. et al. THE ROLE OF STANDARDS, ASSESSMENT AND CREDENTIALING IN EDUCATING THE HIGH PERFORMANCE WORKER: LESSONS FROM DENMARK AND GREAT BRITAIN. A REPORT OF THE STANDARDS TEAM OF THE COMPARATIVE LEARNING TEAMS PROJECT. College Park: Center for Learning
and Competitiveness, University of Maryland, 1994. (ED 374 351) Melton, R. F. "Competences in Perspective." EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 36, no. 3
(Winter 1994): 285-294. (EJ 494 280)