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Civil Service: Transformational Operational Delivery Profession (ODP) qualifications
Written by David Pearson
Transformational learning to benefit the nation
Operational Delivery is the public face of the Civil Service, covering more than 70% of the organisation’s workforce. This is every official who works to support and protect UK citizens and businesses at home and abroad. Their roles range from processing visas or driving licence applications to checking passports, supporting citizens in court, managing prisoners, collecting taxes, and helping people find jobs.
The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan outlined the learning, development and reforms needed to ensure the Civil Service has the skilled people it needs to become more agile, resilient and focused on delivery and results. Professional development wasn’t where the Civil Service wanted it to be: Many of those working on the frontline were often the last to be offered structured learning opportunities, being given just the technical learning necessary to carry out their roles. For some, that amounted to little more than being told to read the large paper-based instruction manual they’d been handed on their first day in the job. This resulted in little sense of purpose and engagement, leading to high levels of attrition and a poor service to both colleagues and customers.
The creation of the Operational Delivery Profession (ODP) looked to overcome these challenges, creating a more resilient Civil Service with cross-department capability and a ‘professionalised’ frontline experience where people could plan and progress their future careers, deliver to high standards, and be the best they could be.
The aims of ODP were:
- For those working within operations to be acknowledged as professionals
- To develop transferable capability and skills that are recognised and respected across government and the wider economy
- To improve the service to customers
- To achieve the same status as more established professions
The FCO works with international organisations to promote UK interests and global security, including the EU, NATO, the United Nations, the UN Security Council and the Commonwealth.
A ‘Premier Partnership’
ODP worked closely with Premier Partnership, City & Guilds and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) to design, develop and deliver 28 bespoke, accredited qualifications ranging from Level 2 to Level 7. These qualifications for individuals at all levels supported organisational objectives and individual needs, enhancing frontline services to millions of citizens every day.
Qualifications developed included:
- Leadership and Management in Operational Delivery (OD) (first line, middle managers, advanced and strategic)
- Managing Change in Operational Delivery
- Principles and Practices of Managing Customer Service in OD
- Personal and Professional Development in OD
- Principles of Building Relationships in OD
- Principles of Working Collaboratively in OD
To support qualification delivery and create an inclusive and supportive learner experience, ODP partnered with Premier Partnership to build and develop a bespoke Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that provided learners with tailored, guided pathways dependent upon the level and unit of qualification they were taking. Learners could select a vast array of learning content, delivered via e-learning, face-to-face workshops, workbooks, reading material, check lists, videos and projects.
The qualifications are knowledge-based and use work-based scenarios to reinforce students’ understanding. They are also designed to be flexible, fitting round people’s day jobs with online learning. The VLE enables learners to submit assessments, complete tests, carry out learning and receive feedback at a time and pace of their choosing. Learning is self-led, and learners are accredited following online tests at Level 2 and Level 3 and assignments at Level 4 and above. The VLE provides e-tracking enabling ODP, departments, line managers and learners to track their progress, from commencement to completion. Learners are further supported by online guides, video support, a help desk and a profession specific e-mail and mailbox. Twitter, blogs and the Civil Service intranet inform and update learners on new qualifications, learning initiatives, successes and also act as channels for learners to comment and share feedback.
Adding value to the public
The VLE now supports over 20,000 learners, with 11,000 having successfully completed at least one of the qualifications and a further 10,000 currently on programme. Additional learners are registering at the rate of approximately 500/month. The learner journey and associated qualifications has helped professionalise the largest profession in the Civil Service. Line manager and learner feedback clearly demonstrates and evidences that the profession has created an identity, with individuals committed to their own development. Learners are championing the profession, recognising the value it brings to the public and are actively seeking ways to improve the services provided.
The qualifications that populate this programme have supported the development of the skills required to meet the goals of the reforms. Specifically, that learning is matched to each individual learner’s needs in the context of their role and organisational need. Achieving externally recognised qualifications was a core part of the strategy for professionalising Operations. A 100% pass rate for all those certificated with 67% of all learners passing first time stands as testimony to that.
The substantial savings that needed to be made in front-end operational delivery meant that productivity needed to be improved by innovating service delivery, using technology to achieve efficiencies, working in partnerships across departments, developing individuals and looking at whole-system continuous improvement approaches.
This learning initiative supports these goals, through the provision of development that is easily accessible, utilises technology, focuses on the use of efficient practices and enables the sharing of best practice across all government departments.
To support continuous improvement, we regularly survey learner and key stakeholders involved with the programme. Below is a collection of learner journeys and experiences, collated from across government departments, from learners who have completed their qualifications. Impact includes increases in confidence, sideways moves, promotions and increased engagement, resulting in better service delivery.
HM Passport Office customer service assistant: “When I first started the ODP qualification, I thought from just looking at some of the material that I already knew what I was doing. But as I started working through, I learnt things about customer service which I didn’t know or knew little about. As a result, I have gained the confidence to transfer into a new role which deals with customer service in a different way and I will be applying for promotions when they are available. I would highly recommend that anyone who works in customer service does an ODP qualification. It will give you the boost you need to help improve yourself and those around you to make customer service what it should be; good for the customer and a good place to work.”
HM Courts & Tribunals Service Crown Court Usher: “I had a thirst for learning but at first I had self-doubt: Why was a 54 year old even considering doing it? Could I do it? But I should not have worried. There was lots of information out there to help me and I enjoyed the challenges it presented. I also liked the fact that I was in control and decided when to take the final exam. I have gained confidence in myself and enhanced my knowledge not only in my job role but other roles too; I’ve even taken on a temporary role a grade above my usual grade, something I would not have envisaged doing before. I’m proof that it`s never too late to achieve.”
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency employee: “I decided to complete the Operational Delivery qualification following a period of maternity leave with my second child. My main reasons for wanting to complete this was to have something of my own – a focus other than my job and role as a mother. I hoped that it would broaden my understanding and knowledge of operational delivery and help me succeed in future development. This is exactly what I have gained. Around the time of completion I applied for a promotion and got the job! It has certainly given me the bug and I’ve already looked at further qualifications to study!”
HM Revenues & Customs employee: “I feel that I have been on a learning journey that has given me both the confidence within my current role and to look at other roles and indeed consider my own development and where I would like to be in the future. Along with the support of our managers, my colleagues and I worked through each unit, helping and encouraging each other along the way. This support was invaluable. As we worked through the Units it surprised me how much more sense all the HMRC guidance made; it was like fitting the jigsaw pieces together. We knew of certain procedures, but we didn’t necessarily know why things were done this way or how to search for or action certain activities. We learnt and understood how the Department works as a whole and where everybody fits into it. Although my working role has not changed, I have felt confident enough to act as an ODP Advocate and have given presentations on why I believe the qualifications are good for HMRC and good for all staff within the Department. I have also now volunteered to act as a Buddy to help colleagues undertaking the ODP qualifications and feel confident enough to offer my guidance and have developed a new found enthusiasm for studying and continuously developing myself.”
Head of Strategic Debt Management, Legal Aid Agency, Ministry of Justice: “I undertook the Ops Del Level 7 qualification upon securing a position as Head of Strategic Debt Management within the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). This was a department of roughly 50 people, working on collecting sums due to the LAA owed by members of the public and lawyers. Prior to this, I had worked in operations as a case worker and then went on and trained as an accountant. I decided to do the Level 7 Operational Delivery qualification after taking over a department of 50 staff as I could see that the course would have a really powerful effect on my working life, giving me hands-on experience dealing with strategy and change. The main benefit for me was the strategic management projects which directly drew upon and influenced how I managed the department. The course gave me access to a range of academic journals and management techniques which allowed me to assess how the department was performing, where it could improve and how we could work together in ensuring that this was successful.”
Department of Work & Pensions team leader: “I’m a great ambassador for ODP and believe it has been the best learning experience for me in my 30+ years as a civil servant. My ODP learning journey is a very personal one and began when I returned to work following a stroke. The stroke had left me with some memory loss and difficulty in processing information and my confidence was also knocked. My confidence took a further dip a couple months later when I had my second stroke and again when I had my third. I really struggled with accepting that I had to learn basic functions again. The ODP qualification enabled me to work on my own pace and helped me realise that I knew more than I perhaps thought. I really feel it was a big part of my recovery and getting back into work. I’ve been left with tangible qualifications that are externally recognised and gained in confidence and development. It has also helped me to examine my leadership strengths and weaknesses and has changed the way the way I work. For example, I plan and structure communication and consider its effect much more now.”
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