Women given credit for skills learnt in the home: The value of unpaid work has been given recognition under a scheme operating in Birmingham. Haydn Price reports

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The Independent Online
IRENE BROWN, unable to find a job after being made redundant by a Midlands catering company, enrolled on a National Vocational training course, in which her informally learnt skills would count towards a final qualification.

Now, after successfully completing the programme, she has gained employment and improved her self-esteem.

She and dozens of other Birmingham women are living proof of the assertion by David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment, that skills learnt in the domestic and voluntary sectors can be formally assessed and certificated.

Before gaining an NVQ in business administration, Ms Brown had helped set up a housing co-operative and had worked voluntarily at her local community centre. She explained that 'this unpaid work gave me experience of organising meetings, agendas and finances, all of which are valuable industrial skills'.

Under the accreditation programme, such skills are recognised and rewarded. Each student provides a portfolio of references and other information, which acts as evidence of prior learnt skills.

The assessor, through an informal, but stringent, meeting with the student, evaluates the portfolio.

Where proof of suitable prior experience is provided the student is deemed to have passed the required practical assessment and gains credits towards an overall qualification.

After the candidate has obtained all possible credits for prior learning, further credits are awarded through conventional teaching. The approach reduces the need to re-teach and test already proven skills.

So far, the scheme has helped many other women to improve their self-confidence and find long-term employment.

According to Hazel Scarlet, who has raised two children, the course 'taught us that we did have valuable skills to offer and that the unpaid work we do is valued'.

June Ashurst was unemployed for several years and was 'timid and shy'. She said: 'The course made me blossom and improved my self-esteem, the camaraderie between the women was wonderful and the course has finally led me into becoming a tutor.'

Despite the women's enthusiasm for their new qualifications, it remains to be seen how employers will react to any national scheme. The reunion of 'the class of 91' was only marred by irritation at press coverage of the minister's announcement.

Pat Hachett, who received accreditation for previous relevant employment experience, said: 'Some of the tabloids make it sound as if we will gain qualifications for ironing.'

Another student said: 'No one came and examined my washing. We achieved our qualifications by showing that we had administration skills and not that we had clean houses.'

Janine Phillips, general manager of Skill Development Services, the organisation that implemented the scheme in Bir mingham two years ago, said: 'If a national programme is to succeed, and reduce the wastage of talent that is occurring, the myth of 'diplomas for dishwashing' must be stopped.'

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