Staff qualifications: knowing your NVQs from your MBAs

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Do you want to get certified for the work you do in your call centre? Let Call Centre Helper guide you through some of the key qualifications and courses available to British call centre staff today.

Perhaps you’re looking to find a professional qualification that will help take you up the management ladder. Or maybe you’ve been out of call centre work for a while and want to take a refresher course.

Courses and qualifications for contact centre agents / support staff
Edexcel is one of the ten academic bodies to have gained accreditation to teach and assess the new National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) Levels 1 and 2 in “Contact Centre Operations” (SVQs in Scotland). Replacing the old NVQ “Call Handling” suite, the latest NVQs have a new unit
structure, updated content and benefit from a less bureaucratic assessment strategy, including the use of expert witnesses. There is also a focus on new ways of collecting evidence, including paperless
logbooks, and cross-awarding body recognition of qualifications for the accreditation of prior achievement (APA) through an e-skills database.

In other words, if agents move from one call centre to another that doesn’t use the same awards body, they won’t have to start their NVQ programme all over again.

To support in-company training in contact centres, the UK Call Centre Association (CCA) has introduced an accreditation scheme in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University. Accreditation at the contact centre advisors/representatives level comes in two forms. First, there is the “CCA Professional Certificate” – typically awarded on successful completion of a company’s induction training. And then there is the “CCA Professional Diploma” (CPD), which is awarded on the basis of
credit points gained for formal learning, informal learning and developmental assessment. Once the Professional Diploma has been gained, it must be kept ‘current’ by undertaking a minimum of 12 hours of CPD per year. Each CPD credit point is equal to one hour of learning.

The Service and Support Professionals Association (SSPA) offers two levels of qualifications – “Certified Support Professional I” (CSP-I) and “Certified Support Professional II” (CSP-II) for those front-line technical support staff looking for professional accreditation. While Level 1 focuses on basic skills – including everyday customer interaction skills, call routing, irate customer handling and escalation – Level 2 gauges an individual’s more advanced analytical skills, advanced problem solving and trouble-shooting capabilities. Interestingly, senior technicians (Level 2) are often required to
mentor entry-level staff to demonstrate their interpersonal and teamwork skills.

NCFE (formerly known as the Northern Council for Further Education) is one of the UK’s fastest growing awarding bodies and its qualifications can be taken through centres across the UK, including schools, colleges, adult education centres and training. Of particular interest to call centre staff – or would-be staff – will be the NCFE Levels 1 and 2 “Certificate in Contact Centre Techniques”. While the former might be seen as good preparation for those who are interested in taking up a career in contact centres, or as a taster or refresher course for others who have been out of the industry a while, Level 2 offers formal recognition of the knowledge, understanding and skills required to work in a call handling situation.

The idea behind the e-skills UK “Contact Centres Pathway” programme is to increase the number, suitability and sustainability of new entrants in to the contact centre industry thanks to a pre-employment qualification that merges vocational training with “Skills for Life” training and assessment. It is aimed very much at learners looking to enter the contact centre industry either for the first time or following a break in employment within the sector. Specifically, it targets learners that not only need sector specific competencies, but also behavioural competencies, soft skills, and literacy and numeracy skills. It is currently available exclusively from City and Guilds.

e-skills UK has also been hard at work developing the “Contact Centres Diploma for Adults” alongside leading contact centre employers, training providers, and the Tyne and Wear Learning and Skills Council. This work-based training and development programme is designed for people already working in contact centres and has been produced to help staff – particularly new recruits and those aspiring to team leadership – to develop the specific skills demanded of their job as quickly as possible. It also offers the means for people over the age of 25 to access funding to support their ongoing development.

Institute of Customer Service (ICS) member organisations have access to three ICS “Professional Awards” in customer service, covering the following areas: communications; solutions; and innovations. The awards are designed to help customer service practitioners develop personal effectiveness in a way that will improve their performance in delivering customer service, and they are achieved by those who can demonstrate in their day-to-day work that they are able to meet the Institute’s requirements in four key areas: you and your customer; you and your organisation; you and your colleagues; and you and your development. To gain an award, individuals must use the ICS’s “Passport to Learning and Achievement in Customer Service” to help them build a picture of how they meet the award requirements. They should do this in association with a designated coach who also undertakes part of the assessment process. A final assessment, which focuses on the individual’s ability to deliver a fully rounded service to customers, is then carried out by an ICS accredited assessor.

Qualifications for team leaders/junior managers

As well as running an NVQ programme for Levels 1 and 2 staff (see section on contact centre agents and support staff), Edexcel has also been accredited to run the new Levels 3 and 4 qualifications for “Contact Centre Professionals”. Aimed very much at team leader level and above, these two qualifications have – like the “Contact Centre Operations” qualifications – been designed to allow greater flexibility for both the employer and candidates. There is also a streamlined assessment and portfolio production process, which makes the qualification a lot more manageable to both administer and undertake.

The CCA’s accreditation scheme with Nottingham Trent University is also available for team leaders/managers and middle/senior managers. For the middle tier (team leaders/managers), a “Diploma in Team Management” is awarded on successful completion of training that has been accredited for a minimum of 40 university credit points. And to spur   earners on, an interim award – the “CCA Higher Diploma” – can be awarded oncompletion of training that has been accredited for a minimum of ten university credit points. Interestingly, individuals can achieve their university credit points simply by passing an accredited in-company training programme. They don’t, in other words, need to go for on-site
training at Nottingham Trent.

As well as its Levels 1 and 2 qualifications (see section on contact centre agents and support staff), SSPA also runs a “Certified Support Professional” accreditation for supervisors entitled CSP-S. This particular qualification focuses on team lead/supervisory skills for those tasked with managing a team of front-line support staff. Do note, however, that SSPA is not a training provider. Instead, it prefers to refer its members to third-party providers who map training to the SSPA’s own competencies.

The City of Sunderland College “Foundation Degree in Service Management” is a two-year, part-time course aimed at those who want to improve their chances of becoming a manager. The course is highly practical, so participants can expect to work on case studies, projects and presentations – both as an individual and as part of a group. But the great thing is that the part-time nature of the course makes it easier to combine with existing job commitments. (Note: Most  participants should normally have at least a Level 3 qualification – be that a National Certificate or Diploma, NVQ or another relevant form of accreditation.)

Professional qualifications for managers

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) offers a range of postgraduate studies in its Lancashire Business School for high-flying call centre managers. Not only is there a Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate (PGDip/PGCert) available, but also  a Master of Arts degree (MA) andMaster of Business Administration (MBA) in “Contact Centre Management”. While the PGCert takes a year to complete part-time – embracing one-day workshops and tutorials – the PGDip is a two-year part-time course.

Both are suitable for contact centre managers, customer service and operations managers, and forward-looking team leaders, and the programme has been accredited by the Call Centre Association (CCA). What’s more, on completion of the Certificate, candidates will receive the letters ACCP (Associate Contact Centre Professional), while completion of the Diploma will offer up the letters FCCP (Fellow Contact Centre Professional). The MA programme is again part-time and
takes place over the course of a year. Applicants must already hold a “Postgraduate Diploma in Contact Centre  management” to undertake this course. Those looking to get on the MBA course, meanwhile, should have a minimum of two years relevant and appropriate work experience.

More senior managers that want to undertake the CCA Nottingham Trent University accreditation scheme can apply for one of three awards: a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert), a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) and a Masters degree. Again, through accredited in-company training, participants can achieve their PGCert by gaining 60 postgraduate credit points.

For the PGDip, they’ll need a further 60, and for the Masters degree, another 60 again. Do note, though, that at these levels, it is neither possible, nor desirable, for all the training to be delivered by the organisation. Rather, there would need to be some involvement of university tutors – although not necessarily from Nottingham Trent University – to ensure that the learning outcomes were appropriate: especially for a Masters level qualification.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 27th Jul 2006 - Last modified: 1st Apr 2022
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  • Please can you forward any information about courses in call-handling based in the Nottingham area. I am looking for a course that on completion would equip someone to apply for jobs as a call-handler. Thankyou

    Sarah Williamson

    Sarah Williamson 3 Aug at 20:07
  • Does anyone have an opinion on which of these qualifications are most valued across the industry or which of them deliver best results in terms of agent behaviours and call handling skills?

    Glen Farmer 25 Mar at 17:59