Since lockdown was enforced in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, apprenticeships – like so much else – have changed dramatically. Training providers have had to invest time, effort and budget into adjusting their learning provision, ensuring systems are fit for purpose in order that they can continue to deliver apprenticeships effectively.
Getting used to these changes has been a challenge for everyone over the last few weeks. And now we face yet more upheaval as lockdown begins to ease. This transition period will bring a new set of challenges as rules are likely to change on a regular basis – but it also has potential for innovation and, as a result, greater success.
The problem is that right now it is unclear exactly how transition will play out and what the impact will be at an organisational and an individual level. It is likely that we will experience fluctuations and variability that will impact each stakeholder in the apprenticeship ecosystem differently.
For example, some learners may soon find themselves able to attend work for the first time in three months – which could leave them feeling vulnerable and anxious, especially if they’re going to have to face new ways of working.
And then, with test and trace being rolled out, they could suddenly be forced to isolate for two weeks at very short notice simply for being in contact with people who show signs of coronavirus. Likewise employers may have to close their doors again if there’s a more widespread resurgence of the virus.
With so much uncertainty, how can they ensure that their training continues at the same high standard and gather the right data to evidence that they are hitting internal, Ofsted and ESFA benchmarks? How can they keep employers engaged throughout the process?
And most importantly, how can training providers ensure that their learners are looked after and protected as much as possible from the stresses that this transition time may bring? With the right planning, it is possible that not only will they survive this transition but actually thrive, becoming more engaged and attaining even greater levels of success.
Understanding the challenges for all apprenticeship stakeholders
For training providers, there are many stakeholders to manage to keep an apprenticeship progressing through the necessary stages, gathering evidence to unlock essential funding at key milestones and ensuring success for all parties.
First, there are the employers, whose challenges are likely to be widely varied at this time. In the hospitality industry, for example, employers have had several weeks of virtually no business, with apprentices stuck at home having to do all of their learning remotely. Now they are having to figure out how to reopen under vastly challenging circumstances – and risk future closures if infection levels spike again.
On the other side of the scale, in the healthcare sector, everyone is busier than ever and facing previously unheard of challenges around everything from new and complex health and safety to staffing shortages due to COVID-19. As lockdown eases, they are likely to be focused on containing the virus so that infection levels don’t spike again while also trying to introduce some kind of normality into proceedings.
In both cases, managing the delivery of an apprenticeship may have been disrupted and suffered as a result. A simple, easy-to-use system that allows much of the process to be automatically logged and tracked in order to reduce the administrative burden would support employers to engage in the apprenticeship process easily while dealing with the challenges of transition.
The impact of lockdown transition on learning outcomes
Of course, there has also been a lot of disruption for the apprentices themselves over the last few weeks, the majority of whom will be new to the world of work and as such not as well resourced – both emotionally and in terms of knowledge – to deal with change as someone with more experience.
Sticking with our two previous examples, an apprenticeship provider might have learners in the hospitality sector who are unable to go into work and therefore cannot progress with the practical aspects of their journey. Or they might have healthcare apprentices who are working more hours than usual and have little time to complete their remote learning modules.
Those trying to progress through their online learning at home might have struggled with a lack of technological resources too, whether that’s because they don’t have access to a laptop or to an internet connection.
However, there is also potential to use this period to make positive changes that will help learners become even more engaged than before, leading to greater success overall.
To ensure that transition is a positive experience, over the coming weeks and months training providers will need to continue to make accessing and progressing through an apprenticeship as easy as possible.
Creating flexible learner journeys that take into account disruption in programme schedules e.g. not being able to access work-based learning at short notice.
Making systems accessible from all devices to include those who no longer have use of workplace or public technology and are limited to personal devices.
Delivering learning consistently, with each trainer using the same assessment and tracking criteria to ensure all learners get the same quality provision and that their progress is tracked effectively.
For those delivering the training, being able to easily access learner information and progress in a centralised cloud location makes it easier to identify those who need help and provide early intervention, while reducing the need for face-to-face contact.
A new way of working for a new non-linear learning environment
There has always been a need for training providers to offer robust systems that support both learners and employers throughout the apprenticeship journey. But in these volatile times, as lockdown eases, it is more important than ever that these systems offer high levels of flexibility, adaptability and consistency.
We can no longer assume a linear model of delivery. Where once a learner might have completed a series of taught sessions followed by a period of applying that learning in the workplace, that sequence has now been disrupted. And it is likely to continue to change throughout the transition period.
Without the right systems and processes in place, apprenticeship programmes risk not being able to cope with the changing needs of their stakeholders over the next few months. It is up to training providers to ensure that, while the world is constantly changing, their provision can and does adapt.
Doing so will create and maintain momentum during the transition period; allowing providers to unlock vital funding, employers to gain the benefits of engaging with apprenticeship programmes and learners to engage, succeed and achieve their full potential.
The training providers who come out of this time ahead of the game will be those who can build systems and processes that can deal not only with the current transition but also the unseen challenges to come – and use them to make the learning experience an even more positive one.