So that the shoemaker wouldn't have the worst shoes ... We talk about market qualifications

kvalifik 5Q07sS54D0Q unsplash

We interviewed an IQS expert, Piotr Bordzoł, who is in charge of providing support in the area of describing market qualifications as part of the project to implement the Integrated Qualifications System in Poland. Our interviewee will tell us what exactly his work involves, how the working meetings with stakeholders interested in describing market qualifications are conducted, what is the essence of a good market qualification description and why the description is so important not only at the stage of inclusion of a qualification in the system, but also later, during validation. We will learn what the role and importance of these qualifications is in building systems that enable learning and verification of "skills", the systems that are one of the fundamental conditions for the development of modern society. We also learn why it is a case of a shoemaker with the worst shoes…






What do you do in the IQS projects?

My job is to support the entities interested in including market qualifications in the System.

Sounds intriguing. Is this your profession?

Good question. Imagine that at a family meeting you hear the question: “What do you do?” How would you answer?

I reply, for example, that I am a journalist.

That's right. And the participants of the meeting already know what your work is all about. You meet people, ask them questions, search for information, and describe reality. You work for the press, online media, television. But are you a journalist by profession?

I don't know what it means. I didn't graduate with a degree in journalism, but I've always wanted to be a journalist, and while I was still a sociology student I fixed myself up with an internship at a popular newspaper.

We touch on the essence of the matter. We can easily list our fields of study, the schools we graduated from, courses, training courses where we explored knowledge. We can talk about the experience we've gained, but it's hard to give a clear indication of what our profession is. You don't have a degree in journalism, you are formally a sociology graduate, not a journalist. Still, you do journalism. You want to do it, you know how to do it, and you're good at it. Now imagine the challenges of technology development, industrial development, digitization. The dynamics of change drive people to constantly learn, learn new things, acquire competencies that did not have a definition just a few years ago. We are moving into different professional roles. To talk about them at the family table, we should reserve time at least from the second course to dessert. We won't be able to sum it up in one word that will explain everything. Therefore, tools are needed to formally confirm what we have learned.

This is the role of market qualifications?

That's right. Market qualifications flexibly follow the demand for skills necessary to function and develop in a dynamically changing reality. Organisations that recognize these needs and want to take on the challenge of naming them are developing a market qualification description. The description is the key component of the application for inclusion of a qualification in the IQS. The application is sent to the minister in charge of the tasks and governmental administrative portfolios to which our qualification project is related, and there it undergoes the evaluation procedure. If the minister makes a positive decision concerning the inclusion, the qualification is included in the system and further procedures are launched to make applying for the confirmation of the qualification possible.

It seems quite complicated. Is it difficult to develop a qualification?

Market qualifications appeared in the IQS Act in 2015. The act also stipulated what their descriptions should contain1. They were something new at the time, no one in Poland, with a few minor exceptions, had developed market qualifications before. Similar solutions were known from other countries, but each country with similar instruments has its own solutions, historically conditioned, adapted to the needs of society and the state. Then, in 2015, the practice of developing applications began to take shape. I had the pleasure, along with the team, of participating in this, almost from the very beginning. Since then, I have participated in the creation of nearly a hundred qualification descriptions. Going back to the first question, this is my task.

What does support in describing qualifications consist in?

The IQS Act stipulates that any entity running an organised activity in the field of economy, labour market, education or training may submit an application to include a market qualification in the system. Market qualifications, as we said, can apply to any dimension of professional activity. It should also be remembered that it does not have to be associated with a requirement to complete a specific school, field of study or course (each person participating in formal, non-formal and informal learning can have a market qualification learning outcomes validated). It usually describes a reality that has not yet been named, encapsulated in its entirety, but which concerns or will concern learners. The challenge is to define its specificity, that is, to embed it in the language. In practice, this is implemented primarily in the description of learning outcomes and the requirements for their validation, but we must remember that the components that make up the description of a qualification must be logically interrelated. The task set before me and my colleagues at the Institute is primarily to spread knowledge about the IQS, about the principles guiding the system, about the Polish Qualifications Framework and sectoral qualification frameworks, about the benefits and challenges of including market qualifications in the System. We organise meetings concerning the content of the application for inclusion of a qualification, during which we explain what information is worth collecting before filling in the application. Next, we encourage the participants to take part in the workshop meetings, which we moderate so as to ultimately lead to the development of a complete description of a qualification - an input to the application for inclusion of the qualification in the system.

What do these meetings look like?

As I said earlier, market qualifications are a relatively new tool. Entities interested in including qualifications in the system identify the experts with whom we meet during the workshop. These are theoreticians and practitioners, people well-versed in the industry they represent, outstanding professionals. The axis of each qualification are skills - defined as the ability to perform certain activities correctly, efficiently and safely, such as searching and gathering information. Performing these activities requires specific knowledge, acquired in various ways, largely through experience, own research, by trial and error. The stock of knowledge is growing rapidly with the development of information technology, which is the result of the availability of various digital tools. But after all, you also need to know how to access "analog" sources collected in archives, libraries, private collections, and how to use these resources. The holder of the qualification developed in this way, will perhaps work as a so-called "researcher" in the reporting department of a widely read newspaper. We realise what a responsible task he/she faces. He/she should be aware that every piece of information must be documented, checked for veracity and reliability. Thus, space opens up to include social attitudes in the potential qualification, attitudes relating to responsibility, awareness of the consequences of implemented actions, social norms, ethical aspects.

The most important task for experts describing a qualification is to single out key skills, identify related knowledge and social attitudes. It is worth helping them to do so, using existing support practices. The tasks before me and my colleagues are to recognise the working style of the group, to determine the optimal order of work, to set the pace. What follows is a confrontation of different visions, a clash between theory and practice. Thought processes are activated, which ultimately lead to a kind of negotiation of the qualification description. Sometimes it is easier for experts to create a general outline of the activities that will make up a qualification, then develop them by describing the learning outcomes in sets. It is important to remember that although learning outcomes were in place in education before the IQS Act became effective, the adopted architecture of their description is innovative. Also important is the context of the Polish Qualifications Framework, an explanation of what "qualification level" means, what it implies and what consequences it has. Inherent in the description of learning outcomes is the need to define the requirements that form the basis for conducting validation. The work on defining them usually runs in parallel with the work on describing learning outcomes. Validation requirements are a proxy for the quantity and quality of learning outcomes, triggering the need for adjustments to increase precision, unambiguity, reality. Consistency of the whole description must be taken into account at all times — each correction entails the necessity of other amendments, requires a rethink of the concept of the qualification, and perhaps, as a result, a restatement of the whole description.

Let's say a few more words about learning outcomes. Why are they so important in describing qualifications?

Learning outcomes should be described in such a way that any person interested in entering validation and obtaining a certificate will find out, in the course of reading the qualification description, what requirements will be placed on them. Experts working on the development of validation tools, in turn, should be in no doubt as to the extent of knowledge, skills and social competencies that must be verified. Employers should have a clear message that the certificate holder is someone they can hire. At the same time, it must be remembered that the description of learning outcomes must enable their comparison with the level descriptors of the Polish Qualification Framework. To achieve the above goals, operational verbs are used, that is, verbs that, as we read in the Catalog of Validation Methods developed at the IBE, "name observable, testable and assessable activities." Undoubtedly, the difficulty lies in naming learning outcomes that relate to soft and transversal competences, including communication, leadership, work organisation, learning and supporting others. In this case, one must especially remember that they should be realistic, that is, verifiable within a certain period of time, using available methods.

It seems that "to support the process of describing market qualifications" sounds inconspicuous, but it is an important activity that requires continuous learning, improving the skills. 

We must remember that building systems that enable learning and confirmation of "skills" is one of the primary conditions for the development of a modern society. In Poland, this is set out in the Integrated Skills Strategy. Our involvement does not end with support in the development of market qualifications. They are, as I have repeatedly stressed, part of a smoothly running machine that was built to support, develop and value learning. The system integrates different types of instruments and offers tools to ensure the quality of the solutions used. The architecture and the way learning outcomes are described are also used in the development of other types of qualifications, such as regulated qualifications or the qualifications awarded on completion of postgraduate courses. As an IBE employee, I have the honour and pleasure of participating in the functioning and improvement of this machine, and this definitely requires me to keep learning, stepping into new roles, using skills from different areas. There is no room for routine and resting on one's laurels here.

So it can be said that the work to support the implementation of the IQS involves the use of skills that could be included in a qualification?

Yes, this is the case when it is very difficult to answer the question "what is your profession"? It took almost 13,000 characters to describe what I do for a living! Behind the support in describing qualifications, as behind any activity performed by a person, are knowledge, skills and social competencies. It is certainly worth thinking about encapsulating them into a qualification to avoid the suspicion that the shoemaker has the worst shoes... The team that would take care of the preparation of such a qualification would have to consist of subject matter and methodological experts in one person - this would certainly be a very interesting experience.

Thank you for the interview


Anna Pluskota interviewed Piotr Bordzoł - Doctor of Humanities, graduate of the Interdisciplinary Individual Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences of the Catholic University of Lublin, specialist in Polish studies. Member of the Polish Language Laboratory at the Department of Didactics at the IBE (2013–2016), since 2016 he has been supporting the entities interested in describing and including market qualifications in the IQS.



1. We are referring to the Act of December 22, 2015 on the Integrated Qualifications System, which defines: the scope of qualifications included in the Integrated Qualifications System and the objectives of the Integrated Qualifications System, the Polish Qualifications Framework, standards for describing qualifications, principles for assigning levels of the Polish Qualifications Framework to qualifications, principles for including qualifications in the Integrated Qualifications System, principles for including Sectoral Qualifications Frameworks in the Integrated Qualifications System, requirements for entities that carry out validation and certification and principles for obtaining authorization to certify, principles of quality assurance of validation and certification, principles of supervision of validation and certification, the Integrated Register of Qualifications, coordination of the functioning of the Integrated Qualifications System. It is important to note that the Act does not specify the requirements for validation and certification, the principles of quality assurance of awarding qualifications or the principles of supervision over awarding qualifications for the qualifications obtained in the educational system and in the system of higher education and science.