These qualifications are set by Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) in the U.K. “So in the U.K., we’ve got our qualifications framework, and the IMI is an awarding body accredited by the government to offer qualifications,” said Mackrill. “We’re very keen to make sure that the standards that are being applied out there are contributing to the professionalism of people working in our industry.”
The IMI has been in the awarding business since 1992, with national vocational qualifications, or NVQs, which are competency-based qualifications. For example, Mackrill said, someone fixing cars in a body shop must demonstrate their competency to do the work on the vehicle.
Originally, skills were assessed by someone going and watching the workers perform the jobs, but around four years ago, this strategy shifted. “There was a shift from just purely assessing their skills on the job to actually assessing their knowledge and understanding externally,” said Mackrill. “So four years ago, there was this strategy that said all people doing NVQs must be externally tested, and that strategy came from the national training organization.”
The IMI looked at the new strategy and decided that the most cost-effective way to handle the external testing was to harness the power of technology with a learning management system, both to deliver tests and to manage candidates. “We looked at methods of doing it on CD-ROM, but we didn’t feel the security within a CD-ROM-based package would be able to do that,” said Mackrill.
The IMI turned to Click2learn’s Aspen LMS, which allowed it to create large databases of questions to generate exams, to check credentials of candidates as they log in through a two-stage security check and to keep track of who needs to take the exams. Candidates can take the assessments online at their convenience, and they do not have to wait for results—the LMS lets them know immediately following the assessment whether they passed or failed.
“We have thousands and thousands of candidates, and we needed to monitor them somehow,” said Mackill. “We have to have results fed back, we have to be able to analyze results, we have to be able to link them into our databases, so there was no manual intervention whatsoever with the process.”
Mackrill said that the IMI has now provided around 60,000 individual tests for approximately 30,000 candidates. “It’s growing all the time,” he said, “so the whole process has been absolutely successful.”
The online assessment system has reduced the workload of the IMI, compared to more traditional, paper-based assessments. In addition, the IMI has seen great returns on its investment in the LMS, but more important than ROI, Mackrill said, has been the fact that the IMI has been able to steal the market from its competitors.
The LMS provides 24x7x365 access to candidates around the world, allowing the IMI to grow its business beyond the United Kingdom. Some of the tests have been converted into Mandarin for Chinese candidates, and the IMI provides assessment in the Middle East and Far East.
“I think it’s quite easy to say we wouldn’t have been in the same competitive position that we are now if we hadn’t done this,” Mackrill said. “We believe this is the way forward,” he added. “We can see the competitors in the U.K. are actually trying to catch us up—trying to, but the fact is we’re well ahead now.”