The emphasis on core skills in GNVQ, such as the ability to communicate clearly, is proving popular with employers. A GNVQ science student recently rang Pfizer Ltd to fix up a visit to this pharmaceutical company's site in Sandwich, Kent. Academic liaison co-ordinator John Adams was struck by the way the 17-year-old handled the call, introducing himself, explaining clearly what he wanted and rounding off the conversation with a panache that eludes most adults.
"That may have been just that particular lad, but I don't think it was, " says Mr Adams. "I think it was the result of the core skills work that they do on the GNVQ programme."
It is these core skills that Pfizer, like many other employers, looks for when it takes on school-leavers. The company recruits a handful of 18-year-olds every year into the research part of its business, and says Mr Adams: "We are looking for youngsters who have good communcation skills, an ability to work in groups and to solve problems, rather than specifically scientific knowledge, which is what we are looking for at graduate entry."
A survey of l0 major employers by Mike Coles of the London Institute of Education confirms that at GNVQ levels scientific knowledge is reasonably important to employers, but not as important as scientific "habits of mind" and practical skills.
The survey also highlights the importance of maths, though until the first students with advanced GNVQ science come on to the job market next summer, it will be impossible to tell if the maths component of the course satisfies employers.
Core skills seem important to employers in all sectors, and not just those in science-based industries. Jo Wilson, corporate resourcing manager for the Sainsbury's supermarket chain, says: "We've looked at the competences that our young managers require and at the GNVQ core skills, and there is a lot of overlap. So if young people can come in with a GNVQ qualification that has helped them gain or improve those core skills, then it's likely they are going to be able to succeed more quickly in the job."
Sainsbury's next recruitment campaign will stress that applications from GNVQ students are welcome and that the company considers the advanced level qualification equal to A-levels. But Ms Wilson admits that there is still a lot to be done to inform the hundreds of managers involved in recruitment about GNVQs and how they compare with more traditional qualifications.
Some companies have shown an interest in offering GNVQ core units to employees on modern apprenticeships or programmes leading to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). The National Council for Vocational Qualifications is looking into the possiblity of part-time routes to GNVQs, which at the moment are designed for full-time students and would take several years to complete through part-time study.
A future NCVQ study is likely to consider whether the needs of students taking part-time qualifications such as the BTEC national certificate could be met by packages of GNVQ units which cover less ground but reach the same standards. Another possibility is hybrid GNVQNVQ packages for people in employment.