I find myself with a highly unfamiliar political perspective right now. As a lifelong Liberal, I’ve been used to being a perpetual opposition supporter: it chimes in with my approach to technology, faith, and a whole host of other things to be the maverick who espouses a different approach to either side of the establishment. But now, my party’s in government … and we’re waiting for the definitive swings of the spending axe.
Well, one of the outcomes is certain to be a reduction in the number of government spin-off bodies carrying out roles which were deemed to be better off without day to day control. There’s a feeling that the “bonfire of the quangos” will, in many cases, result in many functions being not abolished but subsumed back into mainstream government.
One of these, featured in todays’s Guardian, is Becta: the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency. Becta’s remit is the facilitation of effective IT in schools. And one of the components of its role is the delivery and management of occupational standards for IT technicians in this sector.
National Occupational Standards (NOS) are a best kept secret. They exist to benchmark roles in organisations: what are the skills, knowledge and experience individuals need, or need to develop, to fulfil roles at different levels in different functions. They can provide employees a structure to assess their current employment role, the skills they are employing in it, the ones they could develop, and possible future career paths. In IT, the Becta set sits alongside the better known e-Skills frameworks for IT users and for IT/Telecom professionals, and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) which ranges more widely and which originated as the British Computer Society’s Industry Structure Model.
There is an enormous range of NOS frameworks for everything from engineering maintenance to customer relations to policing to people management and way, way beyond. To the point that it can be quite difficult, sometimes, to find your way to the most appropriate framework for your own role, profession, enterprise or aspiration. From the reports, it looks as if Becta is for the chop and I’d rather expect that quite a lot of the other NOS-originating bodies will find themselves under the cosh too. The question will be: what will happen to the NOS corpus? How widely are they valued?
And, for the IT standards, does this matter? The BCS (and yes, I’m a professional member), and the other professional IT organisations, have been endeavouring for decades to get professional standards in IT recognised as a requirement by employers, but enterprise IT still largely ignores them.
But if you’re trying to structure an IT function, or part of one; if you’re trying to make a case for professional development in your annual review; if you’re thinking about taking your career in a different direction; or if you want to know how you, or your organisation, stacks up against others or against your potential, the NOS is a great resource. Explore it while it’s still current!
• Spending review 2010: living with the cuts, The Guardian, 19 Oct 2010 (page down for “The quango: Coventry, Warwickshire”, or search The Guardian for “Becta” for other discussion)
• National Occupational Standards (“UK Standards”)