An 'A-level' in cod liver oil: Holland & Barrett to offer staff chance to take exam in vitamins and supplements

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UPDATED:

15:56 GMT, 17 April 2012

Shop assistants will be able to achieve the equivalent of an A-level on the high street by learning about vitamins and health supplements, it was revealed today.

Holland & Barrett has gained accreditation for new vocational qualifications which include studying the benefits of taking fish oils and vitamin C.

The ‘advanced product advisor’ award leads to a qualification in ‘understanding the application of Holland & Barrett vitamins, minerals, supplements and health products’ which is comparable to A-level standard.

Training: Staff at Holland & Barrett will have the opportunity to pass a vocational qualification in vitamins and supplements in a move the company says will benefit customers

Training: Staff at Holland & Barrett will have the opportunity to pass a vocational qualification in vitamins and supplements in a move the company says will benefit customers

The health food retailer insists that the qualifications scheme will benefit customers as assistants will be able to give better advice about everyday problems such as migraines, joint pain, cholesterol and circulation.

It has been backed by the Government but critics argue that it is ‘absurd’ to compare the new award with an A-level in a tough academic subject.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘I think it’s important that if people in the shop are advising you to buy this or that natural remedy, they should understand it as fully as possible.

‘It may make for better shop assistants, but the absurdity is the idea of ‘level three’ and saying it’s the equivalent to an A-level. It’s not going to open the doors that an A-level would. It’s not likely to be a route to university. It may be a route to a bit of extra pay in a Holland & Barrett shop.

‘It’s more a problem of the qualifications framework than it is Holland & Barrett wanting to improve their employees.’

Absurd: Professor Alan Smithers said that the qualification should not be compared to an A-Level because it would not open the doors the examination could

Absurd: Professor Alan Smithers said that the qualification should not be compared to an A-Level because it would not open the doors the examination could

More than 3,200 Holland & Barrett staff have already undergone in-house training in health issues across three levels.

‘Induction’ level involves 40 hours of study; ‘product advisor’ requires 60 hours and ‘advanced product advisor’, 80 hours.

These awards have now been officially recognised by Education Development International (EDI), which is accredited by the Government to award vocational qualifications.

The ‘induction’ and ‘product advisor’ awards are both at ‘level two’ which means they are equivalent in difficulty to an A* to C at GCSE. The ‘advanced product advisor’ award is at ‘level three’ and has A-level equivalence.

A further 3,000 Holland & Barrett employees are expected to gain the awards over the next five years.

Study is done on the job, using books and reference materials and attending training courses however some work is completed at home. A test is sat online and the pass rate for all levels is 85 per cent.

Sample questions at ‘induction’ level include ‘what is the difference between cod liver oil and fish oils’ At ‘advanced product advisor’ level, assistants are asked questions such as ‘what can you recommend for allergies’

Peter Aldis, chief executive of Holland & Barrett, insisted the qualifications were not ‘easy’.

He said: ‘The official accreditation from EDI is really testament to the depth of product knowledge we impart (to staff).

‘We’re not a business that just waves people through with these qualifications. There’s proper e-learning and e-testing. We have banks of thousands of questions and timed out tests.’

He added: ‘There continues to be a huge growth in self-care so it’s important that we can provide real, trusted advice to our customers to help them improve their health.’

Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, added: ‘Vocational training is a crucial factor in the UK’s economic growth.

‘The launch of this scheme shows a strong lead that other retailers should follow in investing in people and training, to provide a greater service for customers.’