Report summary: Employers’ Use of the National Record of Achievement

The National Record of Achievement (NRA) potentially had a key role to play in supporting job search and promoting lifelong learning. It provided a format for individuals to record and present their skills, experience and achievements. While employers clearly found benefits in seeing job applicants’ NRAs, their use was limited and tended to be restricted to school leavers. Employers did not want to abandon their in-house application forms, but welcomed an accessible means of improving the quality of information on applicants.

National Record of Achievement

In the late 1990s most school leavers were being issued with a National Record of Achievement (NRA). The NRA was a document, in a nationally recognised format, for individuals to set out their skills, experience and achievements. The NRA aimed to recognise and value individuals’ learning and helped them plan and manage their own development. As such it helped to promote lifelong learning and provided a vehicle to create a better skilled workforce. For employers, the NRA had key uses in recruitment and staff development.

Employers’ use of the NRA in recruitment

The NRA was used by relatively few employers and its use tended to be restricted to those who regularly recruited young people. Employers generally did not actively solicit NRAs when recruiting. Rather, their use tended to be driven by young people presenting them to prospective employers. However, our findings indicated that the more NRAs employers saw, the more they came to expect young people to present them in the recruitment process. Some employers recruiting school leavers could see it as a bad sign if young people did not present their NRA.

Recruitment procedures

The NRA was generally used to complement other recruitment methods. The predominant view, amongst the employers surveyed, was that it should not be seen as being able to replace a specific application to a specific job. Employers who encountered the NRA during the recruitment process did so in an interview situation. It could be particularly useful as a discussion tool for young people who had little or no experience of presenting themselves in an interview. In general, the view of the respondents was that the NRA helped employers to understand people’s personal qualities. The NRA was less good at demonstrating interest in a particular industry, or career ambitions.

Selection criteria

The survey showed that reliability, honesty, motivation and attitude were the most important attributes employers looked for when recruiting young people. However, respondents felt that these attributes were less well conveyed in the NRA than the more tangible selection criteria such as qualifications and work experience.

Relevance of the pages of the NRA

The NRA format was a standard folder containing information sheets for:

  • personal details
  • a personal statement
  • qualifications and credits
  • achievements and experiences
  • employment history
  • achievements in education
  • attendance record
  • an individual action plan.

All the pages of the NRA were seen as relevant, although respondents viewed the attendance rate as most relevant. Employers looked for evidence to show that what was said in the NRA was true. References, reports and certificates were all useful. Employers felt the document in its entirety was useful; the usefulness of specific pages varied by individual.

Reasons for not using the NRA

The main reason for not using the NRA in recruitment was that few, or no applicants offered them, or that employers lacked sufficient knowledge about the NRA. Other reasons included preferring to use in-company forms.

Employers’ use of the NRA in training and development

Employers viewed the NRA as a backward looking document, ie the emphasis was on past achievements rather than forward plans. Only a minority of those surveyed understood the NRA to be a tool for planning and promoting development. Usage of the NRA for those purposes was very limited. Where it was used, employers tended to take on a supporting role in encouraging individuals to keep theirs updated. Incorporating the NRA into procedures for managing training and development, in any formal sense, was rare. The NRA was seen as being owned by the individual not the employer and where it was used for staff development purposes, it was used in addition to other mechanisms for reviewing and planning training and development.

Benefits of using the NRA

Our findings suggest that the advantages of using the NRA for training and development purposes related more to the individual, although there were also benefits for the employer. These were both direct and indirect. One of the main direct benefits of using the NRA was recording employee performance. Although many employers surveyed did not see the NRA as being particularly helpful when planning training, some felt it would be useful for undertaking a training needs analysis. The indirect benefit was motivating the workforce. The process of putting the NRA together was seen as beneficial in that it encouraged employees to take responsibility for their own development.

Potential for more use of the NRA

Our findings suggest that there was scope for encouraging more employers to make use of the NRA. Around one-third of the respondents who knew about the NRA but had never used it, thought that it might be useful to them in the future. However, the NRA was seen as something that was used by young people, capturing school-age achievements. It was felt that, in its then format, the NRA was not an appropriate document for adults, as opposed to young people, to present to a prospective employer. Nevertheless, an NRA type portfolio was seen as having a role as a personal resource to enable individuals throughout their working lives to draw up effective CVs and applications, as well as plan future learning and development.

Suggested improvements to the NRA

Employers wanted the NRA to be:

  • simplified — through clear signposting and categorisations, but within a common structure and not over-simplified by being reduced to just a summary
  • well written, succinct and meaningful
  • supported — young people needed to be motivated and have the skills to use it effectively, and the physical resources to update it
  • easy to maintain and update — ie progressive.

Respondents suggested features which could be added to the NRA, such as more detail on skills, work experience, career plans and personality. If the document was to be used for adults, employers wanted to see sections on competences gained at work, and work based achievements.

Determinants of use

There was a need to raise the demand for sustained use of the NRA. The research findings imply that the determinants of use were:

  • Encouraging young people to maintain the NRA. Schools, employers and careers advisors all had a role to play in this.
  • Equipping people with the skills and resources, such as NRA stationery, to be able to maintain their records.
  • Ensuring the NRA was as compatible with work based systems as possible, so that it could either be used with an employer-based system, or to provide individuals with a simple structure to plan their own learning and development.
  • Integrating it within other policies and initiatives, so that it was an integral part of a national lifelong learning strategy.
  • Educating employers about the NRA.

The study

This summary presents the main findings of a study for the Department for Education and Employment into employers’ use of the National Record of Achievement. The main aims of the study were to find out why employers either did or did not make use of the NRA, examine the purposes to which it was put, and assess the potential for more extensive usage.

The research centred on a telephone survey of 487 UK employers conducted during July and August 1996, followed up by 20 in-depth interviews.

The sample of employers surveyed was not intended to be representative of all employers. The survey focused upon employers who were quite ‘sophisticated’ in terms of their approach to recruitment, training and development. It was not the aim of this research to assess the extent of NRA usage across all employers.

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