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Hello, hello now I´ve discovered that I really do know a lot of things… A study on how bank employees experience skills assessment

This study is about how eight individuals working in the finance sector experienced their skills assessment and whether or not it proved to have an impact on their work development the way it was intended to.  This study is part of a thesis for a master’s degree in career and guidance counselling at the University of Iceland and in this paper the major conclusions are introduced.


The aim of this research

Skills assessment is an assessment of skills and abilities acquired in the workplace, in contrast to qualifications obtained through formal education and is set out to be a resource for those individuals who haven´t got college qualifications. Skills assessment is considered to be one part of continuing education or life-long learning. The main aim of this study was to gain an insight into how people in the finance sector experienced skills assessment and how it has been helpful to them in their career development, development of skills and self-empowerment. Career and guidance counselling given during the skills assessment process was also observed, as those undergoing skills assessment are entitled to have individual guidance in accordance with regulations on further education (Regulation on further education, 2011).

The relevance and value of skills assessment

Rapid technological innovations and the developments that follow are characteristic of knowledge-based societies today. This means that jobs are changing much faster and individuals must constantly adapt to a more challenging environment.  It is to be expected that individuals will change jobs more often in the future and will be responsible for their own skills development to maintain their employability. Those who change work or lose their jobs need to be able to demonstrate their knowledge and experiences in a new workplace.

It is more important than ever to be able to show one´s individual skills and knowledge in a transparent and straightforward way.  Therefore skills and knowledge become a more valuable resource for society and the individual (Colardyn and Björnavold, 2004). After the skills assessment has been completed, it is easier to determine the skills and experience the individual has acquired. As a result, new career possibilities can be explored based on the skills acquired or profiling oneself against skills requirements.

Results of the study

The results of this study indicate that skills assessments fulfil the aims of playing an important part in increasing the education level of those with little formal education, as hoped for by the authorities. The recognition and certification of work experience, which the skills assessment produces, appears to be the incentive needed to remove the barriers participants have been feeling and made them more aware of their knowledge and skills.  As a result, their self-esteem has increased and most of the participants have set themselves goals for further skills development. All the participants state that the career and guidance counselling offered to them during the process, was crucial for them as individuals as regards further skills development and played a significant role in their decision to further empower themselves through education. Most of them highlight a change of attitude regarding their own career and further skills development after the assessment. They also point out the feeling of security they get when they know where to go for advice if needed.

Education and career choices of the participants and the reasons why they participated in skills assessment

The participants of this study come from different backgrounds. None of the eight participants has finished college. Two of them never actually started college and the others dropped out on the way after spending different amounts of time there.  The reasons are different, but what all the participants have in common is that none of them suffered serious learning difficulties. Those who had started college all regretted not having finished it. They give various reasons for having dropped out, such as starting a family, health or financial difficulties, need to go away, rebelliousness and general lack of direction in their choice of career. One of the participants only has 30 credits left to finish his college education. He says he didn´t quite understand how important it was to finish college in order to continue his education, until after he had undertaken the skills assessment. None of my interviewees had access to career or guidance counselling during their time in school. None of the participants gave their choice of career any thought and they started their career in the finance mostly by chance. „This was chance….pure chance“, one of the participants said of this choice to work in a bank, but his conclusion also describes the way other participants feel. Furthermore, everyone has a minimum of 10 years work experience, so one might conclude that there was neither a carefully thought out choice of career before starting to work in the finance sector, nor during the time that they were working there. All participants agree that the encouragement given by the Association of Workers in the Finance Sector (SFF) played a major role in their decision to undertake a skills assessment. However work related goals as presented in the skills assessment seem to have been the most important factor for individuals with little formal education. The participants´ experience of the skills assessment process is very positive, especially the creation of the skills passport. This is the part of the process where the working life of the individual is compiled and the validation of formal and non-formal learning is brought together in one place. The reaction towards making the skills passport was uniform, i.e. great satisfaction with this work, which played an important part in increasing the participant’s self-esteem and lessening the belief that informal learning is inferior to formal learning. One of the interviewees applied for a new job within her bank and included the skills passport with the application. She got the job she wanted and believes that the increased self-esteem she gained with the skills assessment gave her the courage to apply for the job. Now she´s quite confident in using this method to apply for new jobs and keeps her eyes open for new job opportunities.

Participants´ experience of guidance and counselling in skills assessment

All participants expressed their satisfaction with the guidance and counselling they were given and agreed that the encouragement and support they received during the process made all the difference regarding the progression of the skills assessment. Furthermore it can be said that the follow-up given after the skills assessment resulted in most of the participants setting themselves goals and making decisions regarding further skills development.  The support of counsellors was a major factor in this process. „ She really lit the spark“, one of the participants said of the involvement of career and guidance counsellors in the skills assessment. She also said that although often not a lot is needed for people to make a positive turn, a certain something is needed and the skills assessment process proved to be an excellent way.

These conclusions coincide with what the counsellors at Iðan Educational Centre have stated, but the counsellors also think that the work of career and guidance counsellors is a key factor for continuing progress after the skills assessment is completed. Encouragement, support and help with planning the future is of utmost importance and is crucial regarding the final outcomes. (Hildur Elín Vignir and Iðunn Kjartansdóttir, 2011).

When it is considered how many participants have not made any attempt to finish their vocational education, it seems safe to assume that this group is struggling with various obstacles and is unable to push them away on their own. That´s when the career and guidance counsellors step in. Their role is to sit down with the participants and look at how they perceive their own education and professional careers. The goal here is to help push away the obstacles and change the participants´ perception towards their own career development (Savickas, 2011).

The situation after skills assessment

The main purpose of this study, as already stated, was to gain an insight into the experience that staff in the finance sector have had of skills assessment.  It was also to find out if and how the process had proven beneficial for the participants in their skills development, increasing their self-empowerment and career development.  The outcomes of this study would appear to indicate that skills assessments help to strengthen these factors. Skills assessments seem to be a good way of re-evaluating one´s career. It changes the way participants think about their work, in a certain way. Furthermore the participants´ increased self-esteem seems to enhance further development of skills.

„Hello, hello, now I´ve discovered I really do know a lot of things“. This was how one of the participants described her skills after making the skills passport and seeing in black and white everything she had worked at during her 20 years of service in the bank.  This discovery is characteristic of the change that can be seen in the participants´ perception of their skills after finishing the skills assessment. The personal support of career and guidance counsellors during the process seems to play an important part in enhancing the skills development, self-empowerment and career development of the individuals participating in this study. After the participants of this study finished the skills assessment procedure, they started looking at how to utilise the results of the assessment. They all share the general feeling of positivity towards changes in their careers and further skills development. They all experienced boosted self-esteem that gave them the confidence to face new challenges. Three of the participants are now studying. Two of them are adding to their business knowledge at university level, and one has decided to study something totally different to his work in the bank, as he plans to work in a new field in the future. Two ladies saw opportunities in using the skills passport to apply for new jobs. It has worked very well for one of them, while the other is waiting to see a certain post she is interested in, advertised.  One lady is planning to start University in the autumn. She was offered a new job in her workplace on the condition that she would add to her education and she is going to take up that challenge. Another of the participants is struggling with the obstacle of thinking he´s too old for further education. This factor is a well-known obstacle and is categorized as a dispositional barrier, which is often associated with the attitude of those who have little formal education and low self-esteem. This participant joined an English class nevertheless after the skills assessment, to see how he felt in the learning environment again. The results were very positive which enhanced the self-esteem and well-being of this participant. He has started to think about future possibilities in a new way, which is still ongoing. He knows that it is possible to have support from a counsellor if needed. The last participant is very interested in further education, but his circumstances today are difficult and prevent him going back to school at the moment. All the same he experienced great self-empowerment which is very useful during hard times, according to him.


To sum up

In reality one third of the Icelandic workforce doesn´t have a college degree or vocational education.  To increase the educational level of the nation, the obstacles preventing individuals obtaining an acceptable level of education to fulfil the needs of the economy in today’s knowledge-based society, must be investigated.  It beneficial for everyone that individuals are able to use their talents and have the opportunities to grow on their own terms. It may well be that the secondary education level has failed this group in some way. The official strategy should aim to analyse obstacles, identify incentives and supply resources so that as many people as possible can find a practical way forward as part of their career development. One of these resources is the skills assessment and according to this study it seems an appropriate method which enhances changes in perception and career development.



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Resource author
Sólveig R. Kristinsdóttir has finished a master’s degree in career and guidance counselling and works as a project manager in skills assessment at Fræðslunet Suðurlands, South Iceland Adult Education Centre.
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