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The Credit Services Association (CSA)
Blazing a trail
From CSA review - October 2015
In July the government announced an extension to its existing Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme, with 26 additional groups working towards the aim of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) also approved a joint employer bid by the Credit Services Association (CSA) and The Chartered Institute of Credit Management (CICM) to develop a group specifically tailored for the credit control and debt collection industry.
The proposed Advanced Credit Control and Debt Collection Trailblazer Apprenticeship standard will offer participants the ability to gain advanced knowledge about credit management and collections, with the added opportunity to specialise in key areas such as credit risk, collections and debt recovery.
The joint CSA and CICM employer steering group believe that senior credit controllers and collectors require 18 months of intensive training, with the new standard aimed at providing transferable skills enabling apprentices to work for employers of any size or sector.
Speaking upon the announcement, CSA chief executive Peter Wallwork said: “This is an important on what is now a clear career pathway that will encourage more young people into the credit industry.”
The first meeting of the steering group is scheduled for November and David Sheridan, CSA Board Member and joint chair of the steering group, is looking forward to a good presence from CSA member companies.
Following the financial crisis of the late 2000s, combined with rising university fees and competition for places, the apprenticeship route has again witnessed a rise in popularity and gradually became to be seen as an attractive alternative to university and its associated costs.
Where those who graduate from university are then often faced with the challenge of competing with fellow graduates for what seems like an ever-decreasing pool of employment opportunities in their chosen field, apprentices may find themselves in the position of not as such having one foot in the door at their placement company, but more like two feet already under the desk.
Initially launched in 2008 with eight trailblazers, participating employers now include Rolls Royce, BT, Dr. Martens and Pinewood Studios with the apprenticeship groups giving employers greater control in designing high-value qualifications to meet the unique needs and challenges of their chosen industry.
Prior to the Trailblazer announcement, the CSA already had experience with demonstrating a commitment to apprenticeships through the Level 2 Apprenticeship for Working in the Debt Collection Industry qualification, which is a recognised technical certificate in the current debt collection framework.
With benefits and advantages to both parties, the apprenticeship route is something that CSA member First Locate launched in 2014 at a time when there was no industry-specific scheme.
And now the initial group of four employed by First Locate are the first in the country to complete the Debt Collection Apprenticeship, containing the Credit Services Association’s ‘Working in the Debt Collection Industry’ Technical Certificate.
The qualification is a result of a working partnership between Leeds City College, First Locate, the National Skills Academy for Financial Services and the CSA.
As an SME with 140 staff, apprentices played an important part of First Locate’s future plans for development and growth, and the launch of the Level 2 qualification dedicated to the debt collection industry was a huge draw for the Leeds-based firm.
Chris Shaw, learning and development manager at First Locate, explains: “The academic framework for the previous apprentices had been focused on customer service and not tailored to the debt collection industry.
“But this new qualification has the CSA’s stamp on it, and it is most important to have the driving force of the industry behind it.”
With Leeds City College onboard as training provider, First Locate began their recruitment campaign for the Level 2 Award and the first four apprentices enrolled were based at First Locate’s head office in Leeds, where they began their training towards a Level 2 NVQ in Financial Services as well as CSA classroom and online sessions.
In addition to the Level 2 Apprenticeship, First Locate also put staff through their own in-house training courses along with a number of team leaders and collectors enrolled upon the CSA Level 3 Diploma for the Debt Collection Industry.
What makes the Level 2 Apprenticeship particularly appealing to Chris, however, was the ability to bring in new talent with no preconceptions of the industry: “Fresh talent is important and apprenticeships will prove to be a crucial recruitment stream for us. We are changing the culture of the industry to ensure the focus is on the customer and treating them fairly, and there is significant value in bringing in new people who have no preconceived ideas that usually only serve to underpin bad habits.”
The apprenticeship scheme has proved to be immensely beneficial to both parties, with First Locate being provided with support from Leeds City College who provided two fully-funded assessing qualifications for staff. For the learners, they all earned a Level 2 NVQ in Providing Customer Services and were offered full time jobs within the company.
First Locate were also supported by one of the College’s qualified Financial Services Assessors and a member of the College’s Assessing Programme team, who trained them in how to assess work-based qualifications as well as understand the requirements of the awarding body specifications.
Through their exposure to every area of the business as part of their development, Chris rates the four apprentices as among the best -trained agents within the organisation – and First Locate’s commitment to the initiative earned them a nomination for Employer of the Year (medium-sized employer) at the 2015 Leeds Apprenticeship Awards.
Suzanne Fenton, Leeds City College work-based learning manager, said: “This apprenticeship has removed the typical stereotypes associated with debt collection and demonstrated it is a valid profession with excellent career prospects. It is a growing industry and this apprenticeship is a great opportunity for young people to start their careers.”
The first four learners, having recently completed their full apprenticeships, were all offered full-time positions within the company.
Louis Smith, 18, was selected for the apprenticeship after being out of work for nearly two years and applying for around 90 jobs. He was among the initial cohort invited along to a special presentation held at the college to mark the completion of their apprenticeships this week.
“Getting this apprenticeship has changed my life,” Louis, from Kippax, said. “Accounting and finance appealed to me as well as earning while I learn. I liked the idea of working with numbers and wanted to develop practical experience, rather than being sat in a classroom all the time.”
Louis now specialises in debt collection and his job involves retrieving money owed to energy and utility companies.
“I really enjoy the job and being in the work environment – it has rebuilt my confidence and changed my life.”
David Gaughan, Leeds City College director of apprenticeship said: “Leeds City College is delighted to celebrate the achievement of the apprentices graduating on the debt collection apprenticeship.”
“The field of debt collection has not been previously serviced by apprenticeships with its own specific pathway so this is a first, and the college will continue to work with its partners to establish the new apprenticeship trailblazer in this area going forward.”
Chris was recognised for his commitment to learning and development at the CSA’s UK Credit & Collections Conference (UKCCC) in September where he was awarded Learning & Development Practitioner of the Year award at the event at Wembley, London.
It was the first time the CSA has recognised an individual in this way, and in addition to his work with the Level 2 qualification, Chris also helped learners gain success in Level 3 Certificates and Diplomas, provided strategic and operational support of L&D in the business and acted as a role model for continuing professional development
First Locate now have two new apprentices currently undergoing the programme - with plans to further expand into their Scarborough and Woking offices - and Chris is in no doubt of the benefits to all involved: “If you get the right people and give them a well-structured programme with good mentors and support, the results can be extremely rewarding.
“For the learners they come away with a professionally-recognised qualification with a thorough and sound understanding of the industry, and for us as an employer it helps us meet and demonstrate a commitment towards regulatory expectations in terms of compliance and positive customer outcomes.”
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