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Employment training toolkit: Pre-qualifications

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What are they and what do they aim to do?

Pre-qualification programmes can act as a pathway to further education and training. From the individual’s perspective, a pre-training course may help them gain a place or improve their performance on a higher level training programme, which in turn may improve their job prospects. From a programme design perspective, pre-qualifications can serve as an entry requirement helping identify those who are more likely to benefit from further training.

We consider the effects of ‘pre-apprenticeships’ – programmes which provide foundation skills preceding a full apprenticeship – in a separate toolkit.

How effective are they?

The evidence suggests that individuals who gain a pre-qualification increase their likelihood of completing further employment training. Pre-qualifications may also have modest employment and wage benefits.

Evidence from one study suggests that programmes that require pre-qualification have higher completion rates. However this effect may represent cream-skimming, where applicants who would stand lower chances of completion are filtered out.

How secure is the evidence?

Generally, the evidence base on pre-qualifications is weak. More rigorous studies are required. We found no systematic reviews of the effectiveness and no meta-analysis.

We found four studies that looked at pre-qualifications. Three of these provided before and after comparisons using a control group and one was based on a cross sectional comparison with control variables. We found a further five studies that examined the effectiveness of pre-apprenticeships. The findings of these studies are discussed in a separate toolkit and were broadly similar.

None of the studies come from the UK. 

For a full list of studies and summaries of their findings see the Annex in the PDF download below.

Are they cost-effective?

It is difficult to assess the cost effectiveness of pre-qualifications. The difficulty arises because lower level programmes are not only pathways to higher level programmes but also valid qualifications in their own right. To take the full cost of the lower level programme as the cost of getting people into higher programmes is therefore inappropriate. As a result there is little discussion of cost effectiveness in the studies considering the effect of pre-qualifications.

Changes in entry requirements are likely to be very low cost. But given the possibility that completion rates improve as a result of cream-skimming, it is not clear that this implies pre-qualifications are a cost-effective way of improving completion rates and employment prospects.

Things to consider

  • Pre-qualifications may provide the largest benefits for those who use to them to gain access to higher level qualifications. It may be desirable to design programmes to ensure this transition occurs with high probability.
  • Requiring a pre-qualification may lead to cream-skimming. Although low cost, this may not be a desirable way to achieve higher completion rates for a programme.
  • Programmes should be designed to ensure pre-qualifications target the right people as their impact can vary across individuals. They may be particularly useful for disadvantaged young people, less likely to be able to access higher level qualifications.