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Podcast: Digital Credentials in the U.K.


ILM is the UK’s leading provider of leadership, coaching and management qualifications and training. In this interview, Nick Cutland, Director of Product Development, Quality and Operations explains how ILM successfully brought digital credentials to apprenticeships in the UK.


Susan Manning:                   Welcome to the Credly podcast where we touch base with our issuers, earners and partners, and explore themes of interest in digital credentialing. I'm Susan Manning. I'm talking with Nick Cutland from ILM. Nick is the Director of Product Development, Quality and Operations. And if you're not familiar with ILM it's part of the City and Guilds Group in the UK, and first I want to say, welcome, Nick.

Nick Cutland:                        Thanks, Susan. It's great to be here.

Susan Manning:                   I'm excited to talk to you today because we're going to talk about ILM's experience with digital credentials and apprenticeships. And this topic is so unique to the UK, at least comparing to what's happening in the U.S. So the first thing I'd like you to do is explain to us apprenticeships in the UK. Who takes an apprenticeship, why, what might it be about?

Nick Cutland:                        So, an apprenticeship is about training on the job. It's a government funded scheme and employers in England basically pay a tax, if you like, which then they can then draw back down to fund apprenticeships. And apprenticeships for learners of any age, it's on the job learning, it's in all sorts of jobs and trades, and it's about getting job ready. So that the training programs will be a combination of on the job learning, some off the job learning, and it could involve taking a qualification, but it may not. And also, it involves an endpoint assessment.

                                                      An external body like ILM will look at a learner, take them through a series of assessments and see if they are job ready at the end of it. And you can do an apprenticeship in all sorts of areas really. The list is almost endless. But you can do apprenticeships in leadership and management, which is what ILM are involved with, in hair and beauty, in health, in accountancy, the list goes on and on.

                                                      So that's really the apprenticeship, the way of working. And we've been through some reforms in England recently and things have changed. And that's really where credentials have come in.

Susan Manning:                   So tell me about that. What was the thinking behind your decision to go to digital credentials?

Nick Cutland:                        Well, apprenticeships, until recent times, where a collection of certificates of qualifications and that has changed. And while you can do and may you do a qualification as a part of your apprenticeship, it's just as likely that you won't. You still have to achieve skills, you still have to acquire knowledge, and you still have to prove that you've done that and you've ready for your job. And the default for that might typically be a qualification. However, if you don't, how are we going to prove that that learner has had a quality experience. How are we going to show that they've been assessed by a particular brand or that they've had some quality assurance from a particular brand.

                                                      Well the best way of doing that, we've found, is through offering digital credentials. And so what we've got at the moment in our apprenticeship market is a really mixed economy. Some people are doing qualifications, some people aren't. Some people are following an ILM learning journey and some people aren't. And so what we've done is we've been able to create a taxonomy of credentials which range from the qualification level through to the non-qualification level. And we've also been able to create credentials for the end point assessment. We don't certificate the end point assessment, however, we take the learners through the end point assessment. And it's very important to our customers to have the ILM mark of quality.

                                                      And so credentials have given us a method to be able to offer that outside of our usual certification. So it's become a central part of our proposition. If you do an ILM qualification as part of your apprenticeship you get a credential. If you do your end point assessment as part of the ILM apprenticeship, you get a credential. If you don't do a qualification as part of the ILM apprenticeship, you can still get credentials for all of the skills you've acquired, all of the knowledge you've acquired. So it's lent us a level of flexibility that we haven't had before.

Susan Manning:                   If they didn't go through you, how do they still get the credentials, the digital credentials?

Nick Cutland:                        We're able to offer our employer customers and our training providers the ability to be able to create and develop their own credentials should they wish to. And so we're able to denude the credential of the brand but we can still help our customers develop and offer credentials. Typically it's been that they do want the brand, but we are able to do it in that non-branded space should they want to.

Susan Manning:                   Neat. So tell me what the reaction has been?

Nick Cutland:                        It's been fantastic actually. And I've been knocking around in location education for quite some time, and I would say that this is probably the first time in a long time that I've seen people get really excited about something that's a bit of a game changer.

                                                      So ILM runs customer roadshows where we go out and we meet our customers. And we introduced our customers to credentials about a year ago, and they were really excited by that, and they really saw the opportunities. Because we don't just offer them in the apprenticeship and the qualification space, we can offer them elsewhere as well. And then we did a retrospective where we contacted our customers and said, if you give us the email addresses of your learners that have taken our level five award in leadership and management, we'd like to offer them a credential and also other credentials that sort of were the units of the qualification to see how they feel and see how they react. And it's been fantastic. It's been really interesting seeing how, first of all, seeing the take up of those credentials because that's been really successful, but then how those credentials have been shared. How people have tweeted them, how they've uploaded them to their LinkedIn profile. And then seeing the number of views, that sort of exponential growth in visibility of those skills has just been absolutely fantastic.

Susan Manning:                   So where do you see this going in the next year or two? Where will ILM take credentialing?

Nick Cutland:                        We are taking it into all our propositions actually. So the first thing we're doing is we're making sure that our top 10 qualifications are all supported by digital credentials. So that's the first thing we're doing. The second commitment we've made is that all new qualifications we develop will have credentials. We have what's called our assured offer, which is where a training provider or an employer might come to us and they want some in-house training accredited. We've now put credentials at the center of that offer as well. And also, we are looking at other ways of bringing credentials to people through other offers.

                                                      We have something called Professional Recognition Awards, and we're looking at how we can use credentials to allow people to show if they have membership of the City and Guilds London Institute. So that's another way of using credentials is in the membership space as well. So really, we're going for it on all fronts.

Susan Manning:                   To take a step back, all of this really is based on surfacing the individual skills and competencies of the earner. So you've done some really hard work on breaking that down.

Nick Cutland:                        Absolutely. And I think that it took us a little while to get to understand the background of the credential, the meta data that sits behind it. But it's become so much part of what we do now that we can see the opportunities for where people have skills. How we can then help them demonstrate those. And we've done it with our own staff as well. We offer credentials internally. And that's also been a really great journey to go on because we've got to, even though you can't touch and feel them, I'm going to say we've got to touch and feel the credentials and how they work for ourselves too. It's been a really interesting journey. I feel we're fairly early on in our credentialing journey, but it's picking up pace all the time.

Susan Manning:                   I think we're all fairly on in our credentialing journey, but you've made great strides. And I think as we share this story, it will be very inspiring for others to think about where they might go with credentials. So thank you so much for sharing your time with us.

Nick Cutland:                        You're welcome. It's been great. Thank you.

Susan Manning:                   Thank you, listeners, for joining us. If you'd like to suggest upcoming topics, feel free to write us at