Welcome for 'burger-laureates'
College leaders say they can create new awards to be more responsive to the needs of employers such as McDonald's.
New freedom to create industry-specific qualifications will make further education more responsive to the needs of employers, according to college leaders.
They claim the "McQualification" revolution - touted as a chance for employers to take charge of their own training - will be a boon, not a threat, to colleges.
Maggie Scott, director of learning at the Association of Colleges, said that this week's announcement by John Denham, Universities and Skills secretary, also heralds a new era of autonomy for colleges, which will work in partnership with employers to create the awards.
She was commenting after Mr Denham announced that McDonald's staff could gain a level 3 qualification - the equivalent of A-level - in running burger restaurants as the firm becomes one of a number of big names to have its own awards recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Mr Denham said: "It is right that we recognise and accredit employers that have shown a commitment to training and developing staff. This is an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications - something that will benefit employees, employers and the country as a whole."
While his comments gave rise to a tide of headlines about "McQualifications" and a new "Burger-laureate", the AoC said the reality was that most firms would call on colleges' expertise to make it work.
New qualifications, which have traditionally taken up to 18 months to create, could now be brought into being in as little as five weeks as colleges are given the power to meet employers' needs on demand.
While McDonald's has a large in-house training operation, the AoC said the consequences across the business world would be that employers, especially smaller firms, would work increasingly closely with colleges to create the awards.
Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), which represent industry sectors in matters of workforce development, will have a role in creating the courses. Colleges will work with individual employers or create more general qualifications designed to meet the needs of their region.
SSCs will also be able to predict new skills requirements using their knowledge of the workplace processes required when new products and services, currently in the research and development phase, are introduced.
Ms Scott said: "It can involve everything from accrediting existing training to creating provision that meets the needs of a niche market. It could be as little as one unit of learning.
"It is also about branding and who's name is on the qualification - something that is open for debate between colleges and employers."
The AoC has repeatedly told ministers that colleges are frustrated by the traditional qualifications framework, which involves thousands of awarding bodies.
David Fairhurst, senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald's, said the move marked "an important and exciting step."
"As a progressive employer, we are committed to taking a leadership position on training and skills," he said. "We want to ensure our approach to recruitment, training and development creates real opportunities for social mobility."
Leading article, page 4.