Apprentices and trainees across Wales have been able to progress with their learning programmes during the Covid-19 lockdown thanks to responsive and innovative changes made by their training providers, including online and practical support.
The fortunes of learners have been uppermost in the minds of training providers who have shown agility in adapting their learning delivery methods so that they don’t fall behind with learning programmes because of the lockdown restrictions.
Online platforms such at Google Hangouts, Smart Rooms, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facebook have allowed training providers to keep in touch with and support apprentices and trainees to complete, review and assess units of their Apprenticeships and Traineeships.
The result of this agile skills delivery is that learners will be in a strong position to complete their learning programmes when the lockdown is lifted.
Training providers across Wales, most of whom are members of the National Training Federation of Wales (NTfW), have contracts with the Welsh Government to deliver learning programmes ranging from Traineeships to Higher Apprenticeships.
During the lockdown, they are unable to arrange physical face-to-face meetings with their learners who fall into three categories: furloughed or made redundant; still working and with limited time to continue their learning because of work pressure on the frontline; and working normally either from home or at their usual workplace.
For those learners with barriers to learning, most of whom are working towards Traineeships, training providers are staying in regular contact with them and arranging virtual group meetings to ensure their wellbeing and to provide work to be completed at home.
The valuable contribution made by training providers has largely continued unnoticed during the pandemic, with the focus very much on the NHS, carers, schools and other frontline workers. However, their work will prove invaluable in helping to provide the skills to get the country’s economy up and running following the lockdown.
Jeff Protheroe is director of operations at the NTfW, a membership organisation of more than 70 quality assured work-based learning providers with links to thousands of employers across Wales.
“It is a challenging and worrying time, but training providers are busier than ever and deserve credit for changing their delivery model overnight,” he said. “The new ways of working are very effective because providers are squeezing so much into a day by not having to travel around.
“At the end of the lockdown, we should be in a much better position in terms of digital delivery models and new ways of working which will ultimately prove beneficial. There has also been a real appetite by learners to progress with their apprenticeships and traineeships.”
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates, said: “Apprentices and trainees make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy, and they are going to be absolutely vital as we shape the recovery from the crisis.
“It is our aim to not just bounce back from this pandemic, but to build back better by creating a national economy which sees wealth and prosperity spread more equally throughout Wales – apprentices and trainees are key to this.
“Despite this being an immensely challenging period, it has highlighted the talent, commitment and incredible resilience of the training providers supporting individuals here in Wales. Their contribution has not gone unnoticed and their efforts give me confidence for the future.”
NTfW interim chairman John Nash, a director of TSW Training in Bridgend, said: “We welcome Economy Minister Ken Skates’ recognition of the key role that apprentices and trainees will play in the future recovery of the Welsh economy, as it is known that young people can be adversely affected by the impacts of a recession.
“As we bounce back from this pandemic, Wales is going to need skills more than ever. The NTfW and its members are committed to working closely with the Minister and his team to contribute to the Welsh Government’s economic recovery plans and secure the future of apprentices and trainees in Wales.”
The new ways of working have benefited not only learners but also the training providers themselves who have upgraded and developed new skills.
Educ8 Group, which incorporates ISA Training, is based in Ystrad Mynach and has 165 staff delivering learning to 1,600 apprentices in the health and social care, childcare, leadership and management, advice and guidance, business and hair and beauty sectors.
The group is reaping the benefits of its investment in the development of digital platforms which give learners access to learning resources and course content and an online portal for employers and learners which allows all parties to submit, mark and monitor coursework digitally.
Last month, the group also launched a sector leading onboarding platform which uses facial recognition technology, enhanced data security and allows employers and learners to complete and digitally e-sign all documentation required to secure funding for an apprenticeship place.
Employers are able to remotely sign-up employees for apprenticeships and learners spend less time completing multiple forms, which they could do at home using the online system.
“Thanks to these technology platforms, the impact of Covid-19 on the ability for Educ8 learners to access their resources and continue progressing with their qualifications was limited,” said chief executive Grant Santos. “In fact, since lockdown, an astonishing 90% of Educ8 learners have continued to progress with their Apprenticeship courses.
“For many employers, it has been critical to their business that they can still access the Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship programme, especially in sectors like health and social care and childcare where qualifications are mandatory in order to be able to operate.”
The key relationship between Educ8 Group staff and learners has been maintained during the lockdown by the use of video conferencing for one-to-one sessions as well as workshops for cohorts of learners.
“Covid-19 has required training providers in Wales to adapt at a pace that has been unprecedented in order to ensure that access to the apprenticeship programme is maintained,” added Mr Santos. “Amongst the myriad of challenges have emerged some outstanding solutions that will have a big impact on how the sector looks in the future.
“Any innovations that improve convenience, service, access, quality of learning and also reduce the nation’s carbon footprint look set to have a lifespan greater than the lockdown which prompted their adoption in the first place.”
The group has two apprentices at 1st Steps Day Care in Rhymney, Tredegar, where director Bethan Evans-Conway said the online learning provided by Educ8 had allowed staff to continue and remain on track with their apprenticeships during the pandemic.
“Plans were made promptly as soon as the lockdown started,” she added. “This is a very unprecedented time and I am are extremely grateful to Educ8 for ensuring that this pandemic has not halted the learning and development of my staff.”
Businesses can discover how they can benefit from taking on an apprentice or upskilling their current workforce by registering their interest at https://businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/apprenticeships or by calling 03301 228 338 for more information. Individuals who are finding their way in the world of work or taking steps towards a career change can find out more at https://gov.wales/apprenticeships-genius-decision.