Skills in the New World: The power of data and business intelligence to drive growth and unlock value


I was fortunate to be a guest speaker at a recent networking event arranged by Grant Thornton. These events are hugely informative bringing together CEO’s of many of the leading training providers to discuss and review common challenges and opportunities.

It was an enjoyable and insightful evening with a range of important themes surfacing from a very lively debate. This session explored the power of data and business information in driving growth and unlocking value in apprenticeship delivery. Arranged under Grant Thornton’s Skills in The New World programme I would urge you to attend if you’re lucky enough to receive an invitation.

Employers are leading the agenda

From the initial conversations there was a consistent theme emerging – the sector is in a very different space since the introduction of the Levy. No longer is a learning programme dictated by the training provider, but the baton has now been firmly taken up by the employers. Whilst strong employer engagement has always been an important practice in the apprenticeship arena, there has been a very clear shift in who leads the agenda. The sector is now operating within a new frame and needs to align to the expectations and working principles of Levy paying customers. As such, the quality and accuracy of data and business information is being placed front and centre.

It was suggested that IT strength has been a point of differentiation in the past. This situation, in part, is changing and the sector needs to aim and conform to a higher quality standard. There will always be scope for innovation and unique provision but there was a general agreement that the systems of the past will no longer serve the future. Within such a substantial programme of apprenticeship reform mere operational and systematic tweaks will not survive the challenge.

The impact of standards

The introduction of standards has necessitated a complete change to how learning is delivered and poses a number of key challenges to training providers; not least of which is the ability to effectively track learners progress throughout their programme. Frameworks had clear stepping stones and progress, in many ways, was far more transparent. Processes now need to work with the new principles of standards. The adopted systems need to keep all relevant parties aligned to pace and progress. Failure to do so places the potential of a successful gateway in jeopardy. Whilst accurate tracking is a clear requirement to appropriately serve the learners and employers, training providers also face a very real operational and financial ticking timebomb if they fail to manage and monitor a learner’s progression to end-point assessment (EPA).

Changing perspectives

There is a changing perspective in this new world. Traditionally apprenticeships have been focussed on an input driven system and employers have an output driven mentality. The demands of the new standards require both ends to be met i.e. being equally obsessive about compliance, progression and regulation as quality of learning and job performance. This is a message for those devising management systems in that they need to comply with regulation yet have a genuine and positive impact upon the learning and achievement. Systems need to link up and provide one version of the truth. The conversation further suggested that if scaling provision is an aspiration then this level of control and data integrity will be a determinant of potential growth and success.

On the whole there was a clear recognition of the challenging and changing environment in which training providers are now operating but there was equally an underlying feeling of optimism. The introduction of the Levy, even with good planning and foresight, has been an earthquake in the apprenticeship world, shaking the foundations and requiring a complete rethink of how programmes are built and delivered. Those who embrace the need for change and can step up to the challenge have a lot to look forward to in the future. Data and business information has always been, important, but the emphasis is heightened considering the new demands and expectations. In this climate, it is the quality of the data systems and processes that will underpin not only compliance but future actions and strategy. Generating data will not be a static by-product, informing on activities delivered but a fundamental practice that steers management decisions, optimising performance and driving value.

Finding confidence in a climate of uncertainty

The apprenticeship reforms have accelerated change and created an uncomfortable level of uncertainty. Having confidence in your data and business information is perhaps more critical than ever before; after all, when planning for your future you need belief in your past. I personally feel, therefore, that high level networking events, such as the one I attended are hugely important. They foster good practice, stimulate new ideas, drive innovative thinking and often act as a spark to solve issues that have seemingly been unsolvable. Inspiration is often prompted from unusual places and immersing yourself within a small group of hugely talented people is a great place to start looking.