IOSH became an awarding body in late 2021, and is recognised in England by Ofqual. We spoke to Rachel Wilson, head of IOSH’s Awarding Organisation, about the qualifications being developed.
When Rachel Wilson was developing new qualifications for safety and health professionals, it was clear to her that teaching technical ability alone was not enough. OSH expertise needed to be coupled with wider business skills to enable today’s professionals to apply their knowledge in the workplace – and become business leaders of the future.
‘That is what employers have told us from the beginning,’ says Rachel, who is head of the IOSH Awarding Organisation (AO). ‘They place a high level of importance on people with professional qualifications that give them both the technical know-how but also the soft skills – the people skills and key leadership traits.’
Consulting with employers has been a key part of the work of Rachel and her team (see Getting to know the team, below) in the months since IOSH was officially recognised as an AO by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) in England. Their work has also included surveying learners, and liaising with OSH professionals and educators to uncover what is needed from the OSH qualifications of the future.
Qualifications like no others
‘We weren’t trying to replicate what already exists,’ says Rachel. ‘There are many established qualifications, and we wanted to find out what was needed by the next generation of learners.’
It was with that in mind the AO team has been developing a new global Level 6 Diploma (Level 6 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is equivalent to Level 10 in Scotland but Level 6 in the rest of Europe), which they feel is unique. Similarly, they believe the new Level 3 certificate being developed (equivalent to Level 6 in Scotland and Level 4 in the rest of Europe) is set apart from others at the same level. The reason for this difference is that the new qualifications give equal balance to core and behavioural skills as well as technical knowledge.
‘The profession has told us that OSH professionals of today really need the ability to influence colleagues and to be able to work cross-functionally across an organisation,’ says Rachel. ‘They need to be able to perform that business partner role, to drive an OSH culture, to understand social sustainability and support organisational productivity and success.’
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of several factors that have accelerated changes in the way people work and heightened the demand placed on OSH professionals – something they need to be able to respond to, says Rachel.
As well as giving equal attention to soft and behavioural skills, the assessments are designed to enable professionals to apply their knowledge at work. Learners on the Level 6 qualification will be able to undertake work-based assignments. ‘We don’t just want to create theoretical courses,’ says Rachel. ‘The assignment should lead to recommendations for change that can be put into action. This means it will be of value to learners as well as organisations.’
The Level 6 diploma is designed for people working as OSH professionals who want more responsibility and to manage and lead on OSH policy, procedures and practice. It also has a significant focus on social sustainability and how the OSH profession can support the delivery of some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The Level 3 certificate is aimed at those starting their OSH career. By aligning both qualifications closely to IOSH’s competency framework, the AO is ensuring they correspond to IOSH’s member grades and are relevant globally.
Joint effort: Getting to know the team
As head of the IOSH AO, Rachel is the person who is ultimately responsible for the qualifications. She takes the lead on development of the qualifications, and is accountable for developing and managing the AO, ensuring it remains independent and that it meets regulatory requirements.
She brings a wealth of experience to the role, having previously been head of assessment at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) before heading up the development team at City and Guilds, working on a multitude of vocational qualifications including the new T-levels (technical qualifications in England developed in collaboration with employers and businesses that can be studied by 16- to 18-year-olds after finishing their GCSEs) and apprenticeship end-point assessments.
Working alongside Rachel is Katie Bevan, who is AO operations and quality manager. Katie has experience of working in a regulated environment, having spent six years at CIPS, latterly in the role of awarding manager – where she was responsible for operationalising CIPS as an end-point assessment organisation, and for all non-qualification routes to membership.
A future-fit profession
These will be the first professional qualifications awarded by the AO. After their launch later this year, the team will ensure they are kept up to date while researching other qualifications.
The decision by IOSH to become an AO stemmed from its charitable objectives and, in particular, its WORK 2022 strategy – a vision for a safer and healthier world of work. The main aim is to enhance the standards of the profession, ensuring it is future-fit. Rachel says: ‘This is the key part. It’s about developing and delivering our qualifications that can meet the academic requirements for entry to IOSH membership. As a leading OSH authority, we can ensure our qualifications are the most relevant, up-to-date and forward-thinking.
‘Ofqual regulation gives learners confidence that the qualifications have been evaluated and quality-assured in a valid, fair and consistent way. But, for members, the key thing is they are intrinsically linked to their membership and professional journey, giving them a seamless way to join as a student member and work through to Chartered status.’
Rachel says that, although Ofqual is an English body, the status covers learners around the world. ‘We were incredibly proud to get Ofqual recognition,’ she says. ‘We have been busy collaborating with small- and medium-sized enterprises and education experts to develop qualifications.’
The response to the diploma from business leaders and senior OSH professionals has been positive. Jon Harper-Slade, of CHASNZ, a New Zealand-based charity that supports OSH in construction, says: ‘I’ve led large teams of safety professionals in very large organisations, and it’s always been up to the business to take those professionals and provide them with a solid grounding to help them develop. So having a qualification comparable with degree level with that balance is really good.’
Kevin Barr, health, safety, environment and quality manager at mechanical and electrical services contractor Group Metropolitan, says: ‘It’s talking about leadership, sustainability and influence a lot more. There’s a lot more focus on it; they will see that as being more part of their job, which is great.’
Cathy Day, director of health, safety and risk at the University of Southampton in England, says: ‘What I liked about it was the fact that it looked at the business. So, it’s gone beyond just OSH and that remit, and that’s good.’
Rachel says the team at the AO will continue to focus on the Level 3 certificate and Level 6 diploma, but will remain alert to future opportunities for development (see Every challenge creates an opportunity, above). ‘We’re ambitious,’ she says. ‘We want to be the leader in OSH qualifications. We want to be the number-one choice. This is our vision and mission.’
Starting up: Every challenge creates an opportunity
‘We’re very new,’ says Rachel, when asked about the main challenges facing the AO. However, she is clear that this apparent challenge is actually an opportunity. ‘We are developing and testing our policies and processes for the first time, but this means we can influence those from the start and use our previous experiences to ensure we get it right first time,’ she says. ‘It’s much harder to change if you go into an established AO, as they have set ways of doing things. It’s actually quite a luxury to come in and set this up.’