Louisa Penford, Vice President, Program Management (EMEA)
November 1, 2021
The exams we deliver at Pearson VUE have a direct and positive impact on communities around the globe, driving progress and helping our clients deliver on the promise of their industries. In this new series, we’re taking a deeper look at the ways we make that happen, by speaking to people from around our business who are making a lasting impact in a particular area of assessments.
This time we’re speaking to Louisa Penford, VP Program Management for our EMEA region. Based in the UK, Louisa ensures we have the skills and knowledge in place to continually improve the way we work, in order to deliver excellence for our clients and to grow our core capabilities.
Louisa, can you briefly describe your role within Pearson VUE?
I have responsibility for overseeing our full portfolio of exam programs across the EMEA region. Managing the service quality provided by our individual program managers (PMs), I am the main escalation point for both internal and external-facing stakeholders. With many clients in EMEA transitioning from a paper & pencil format to computer-based testing, I ensure they’re getting the right level of support and access to the products and services they need. I allocate program managers to individual clients (based on their specific requirements) and work closely with the teams to deliver our clients’ vision. So that we’re providing a consistent level of service, I often get involved at the client onboarding stage. I might also engage with our sales teams - speaking to them to check we have understood the profile of a client prospect and what they’re trying to achieve through computer-based testing. It’s important to build relationships right from the start. Our clients should feel confident they’re getting the same high standard of service at every stage of their testing journey.
Through the course of your time with Pearson VUE, what are you personally most proud of?
Launching a new certification program for a client, which really addresses a specific learning & development (L&D) goal has always been really fulfilling. Being selected by a new client can at times be a long process and the implementation phase of a new exam program might have many complex milestones to navigate. Some of our larger clients require a lot of customisation for their exam program, such as a very specific type of software development, or they might be cautious about online exam delivery at the start. Encouraging them to embrace new tools and methods and then seeing those in action, can be very rewarding. When a client significantly scales up their offering because we’ve developed and invested in that relationship, that’s amazing to see. Over the years, we’ve also expanded our customer service capabilities to address the needs of specific clients, which has been a huge effort to co-ordinate.
Our main focus is striving to constantly deliver the high level of service our clients should expect.
—Louisa Penford, Vice President, Program Management (EMEA)
Briefly describe a typical working day
I have two young children and will drop them off before I properly start my day. With my team working remotely, it’s important to have regular check-ins to hear about people’s current areas of focus and to trouble-shoot and quickly deal with any problems.
Twice a week, I’ll lead a team meeting which all EMEA program managers are encouraged to attend. I’ll provide a general COVID-19 update and then we’ll run through any priority communications to clients. These sessions are intended to be an open forum for discussion, where we debate and work through any issues so that we’re constantly improving our working processes and delivering our clients the best possible experience.
Around my daily series of meetings and one-to-ones, I’m flexible to ongoing client needs and constantly re-prioritising my to-do list for that day. There might be a new bid to respond to or new projects that require allocation of PMs based on a client’s specific requirements.
How do you personally maintain quality and high standards across our EMEA operating environment and across the various client exam programs we deliver?
I have open lines of communication with all of my team leads and strongly believe in promoting a workplace culture where people feel they can come forward, be listened to, and trouble-shoot any challenges or issues with others. Our main focus is striving to constantly deliver the high level of service our clients should expect. Regular touchpoints with program managers who might need support is essential to meeting this goal. Although people might be assigned to a particular client, we also cross-pollinate our teams, giving people exposure to different clients, and different products and services, so that they are always learning and adding value for our clients.
I also monitor our training quality. Many of my team are certified in Prince2 and we follow the ‘Agile methodology’, breaking our work into several phases, evaluating what is/isn’t working and documenting everything so we have a clear audit trail.
What’s the value of clients choosing to test with Pearson VUE? / What makes Pearson VUE stand out in the market?
We’re dedicated to meeting (even surpassing!) our customers’ needs and delivering ultimate client satisfaction. We’re passionate about what we do and take our work very seriously. Many of us have been in this industry for years and we pride ourselves on the positive feedback we receive from our clients. We’re all about relationships – offering a personalised service and one-on-one contact with clients.
We’re all about relationships – offering a personalised service and one-on-one contact with clients.
—Louisa Penford, Vice President, Program Management (EMEA)
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing test-owners today?
In EMEA, organizations might come to us having only ever done paper & pencil testing. Computer-based testing is often seen as a big leap and some clients are cautious about transitioning out of an event-based model for their exam. They might be nervous about fully embracing all the services which we can offer them, and which will ultimately help make their exam program more robust. For example, they might say they don’t have enough exam content, but we have specialist teams who can support them and help them to expand in this area.
Have you seen any particular trends or changes with the new certification programs being launched by clients across EMEA over the past year?
Delivering exams remotely is the main area. Clients across a number of different sectors are making important decisions for the long-term about whether an online proctored solution (such as OnVUE), is right for them. Does it meet their needs? Is it the right time for their business? Is it what the candidate wants? Clients now have many different options including the ability to go multi-modal with their exam delivery or include elements of performance-based testing. Performance-based testing enables them to evaluate the candidate’s hands-on approach – they are emulating a real work task rather than simply answering a question.
Increasingly, clients are looking to us for an expanded ‘one-stop-shop experience’. They come to Pearson VUE because we can support their long-term growth strategy by ensuring their program meets changing requirements or regulations within their specific industry.