Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Value Chain of Business English Training - Chapter Two: Qualifications

How qualifications add value...

The ELT community and Business English in particular has rightly made the link between qualifications and earnings, but in the wrong way.  It is useful look at a few qualifications and what they really mean.  

First, the basic qualification to be a teacher is possess more knowledge about something than the learners.  This means that every English speaker in the world is qualified.  There is no way to create a barrier for entry.  In fact, there is probably no other field with a lower barrier of entry.  Providers will always hire from this pool and provide them with everything they need to conduct training.

A qualification demonstrates to clients a certain level of expertise in certain parts of the value chain.

The basic qualifications are a TESOL certificate or CELTA.  This shows a certain ability to conduct training.  In Jenny’s case (see previous post), she able to work for the private language school because of this certificate, probably earns a bit more, and has some more freedom in designing materials and activities.  But in essence, the certificate now really belongs to the school.  They will be able to gain a slightly higher price from the client because they offer a certified trainer.

Now, if we talk about university degrees in (Applied) Linguistics, this demonstrates a deeper knowledge of the subject matter.  The corresponding assumption is that these qualifications improve the ability to determine what part of language to train.  This is certainly valuable as fields like pragmatics emerge within Business English.  But to say that they will immediately translate into higher training rates is a bit exaggerated.  They will only allow the trainer to better identify certain skills needed, divide those skills into sub-skills, and prioritize them.  For example, within the main skill relationship building we have the communication skill of small talk.  One linguistic sub-task of small talk is showing empathy.  A trainer with a degree in Applied Linguistics will be better able to identify this sub-skill and develop linguistic strategies for performing this sub-skill.

If we turn to Education as a field for certification, this demonstrates a deeper knowledge of the how to teach.  This will show that the trainer is an expert in creating learning materials and delivering the training in a way that is easily absorbed.  A degree can be very useful, but it is important to remember that it supports only certain elements of the value chain.  The trainer may design and conduct outstanding training, with high learning and performance results, but which is also only marginally relevant.

The DELTA and MA TESOL could be considered a blend of these two fields in the context of ELT.  They appear to do a better job of improving all aspects of the value chain to a certain degree.

The final qualification would be a degree or certification in a special field, such as law, engineering, or finance.  This will typically help when defining the skills needed.  These degrees solely support the what side of the value chain.  But it is unclear which qualification would be most useful.

When in doubt, ask the customer...

I had a meeting with one of my clients a few months ago and we talked about an ongoing training project I am working on.  He is a manager in procurement and pays my bills.  If he is not happy (either with me or because the participants complain) I will lose my job.

During the meeting I started talking about my approach to training (materials light, maximum feedback, skills focused) and he cut me off. 

“I don’t need to hear about how you do things.  You are the trainer and you know the best way.  I am interested in making sure we are training them things that will help them do their job better.  We aren’t here to teach them ‘English’.  They should bring that with them when they are hired.”

Translation:  I see that you are an experienced and qualified trainer.  I’m assuming you know what you are doing and I have not heard anything to make me doubt that.  For me, the main value is the focus of the training.  Are you training them in skills which are applicable to their daily work, or are you sitting in there talking about grammar?  I’m not interested in how you train, rather what you train.

This client is not alone.  Most of my clients are more worried about the content than the approach.  From the client’s side, the methodology debate is a non-starter.  They do not care if you know Dogme, task-based learning, or the like.  What they really care about is whether you are training them things they can do in their job.  The method is only important in that is achieves results and satisfied learners.

This leads me to believe that qualifications which support needs assessment and skill analysis are more profitable.  There are several examples of this.  Some trainers are doing quite well with a law degree.  Evan Frendo is an engineer and mentioned how useful this has been in a recent interview in Business Spotlight.  On the other hand, ELT specific degrees and qualifications seem to only marginally pay off because they do not necessarily resonate with the client.

This what worries me somewhat about the planned teacher qualification scale being drafted by organizations such as British Council and Göthe Institute.  These scales will be designed based on their business model of teacher, DOS, and  director or on the university system.  In my experience at a private language school, the client was not willing to pay significantly more for a DELTA trainer than a CELTA trainer.  On the other hand, they easily handed over a premium from a trainer with a field specific qualification like a project management certificate or business degree.

In chapter three we will discuss ways we 'give away' parts of the value chain and limit our income.

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