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From survival to revival: reflecting on apprenticeship delivery during Covid-19

Susanna Lawson, CEO and co-founder, OneFile

The #FutureofApprenitceships after COVID-19 

Covid-19 has turned the world on its head. When lockdown was first announced, colleges, training providers and universities closed their doors and had to transition to 100% remote delivery overnight. It was a challenge for many organisations who had to get systems up and running for their staff and learners.

Now we’re over 6 months into lockdown, the country seems to be in limbo – many schools, colleges and businesses are back to work, but the restrictions on social distancing and group gatherings are still changing every week.

We don’t know when we’ll get back to ‘normal’ or if we even want to return to life as it was before Covid-19?

Could this be an opportunity to change working practices and lifestyles for good?

Now seems like a good time to reflect on our ‘new normal’ as it is currently.

Over the last couple of weeks, reflecting on the sacrifices we’ve all made to support each other. I’ve spoken to friends, family, colleagues and customers about their experiences, and it’s clear that no sector has been spared the struggle – including the apprenticeship sector.

Apprenticeship delivery before Covid-19

It’s no surprise that some providers struggled to transition to remote delivery. Apprenticeships have always been focused around learning on the job, in the workplace. Apprentices have learned by shadowing a senior member of staff or gaining practical skills from a colleague. Tutors have traditionally visited learners in person to complete every stage of the apprenticeship journey – from enrolling new starts to progress reviews and assessment.

Even the new standards have been designed around face-to-face workplace learning. Apprentices spend around 80% of their time learning at work, and the other 20% completing

Despite this focus around the workplace, many providers use a blended learning approach to apprenticeship delivery – a mix of in-person and remote delivery. This blended approach typically relies on in-person delivery, with remote sessions as secondary support – some face-to-face visits supported by remote sessions; classroom teaching backed up by elearning.

Before now, the sector hadn’t adapted to 100% remote learning because it never had to. The best providers opted for blended learning so they got the best of both worlds – the benefits of in-person and remote learning.

Delivery during lockdown

This all changed when lockdown happened. All of a sudden, blended learning wasn’t an option, and providers were forced online. Providers that already used blended learning had a definite advantage during the transition. They already had digital systems in place, so they just had to move part of their delivery online. Other providers have had to completely pivot their delivery, change all their processes and get used to brand-new digital systems in a short timeframe. It’s been a challenge for hundreds of providers, but I’ve heard some amazing stories of how people have risen to the challenge with great success.

Lucy Hunte Feb20 100x100A few weeks ago, I spoke to Lucy Hunte from HEE about her experience managing apprenticeship delivery across the NHS during a health pandemic. Many NHS apprentices were needed on the frontline, while others had to provide care in different wards.

It’s been a unique situation for the NHS, so many providers assumed that NHS apprentices would be too busy to continue with their on-programme learning. Lucy said they had to step in and explain that this unusual situation is actually a huge learning opportunity for apprentices to showcase their skills.

Lucy has had to think outside the box to clarify how different learning situations can contribute towards the apprenticeship journey.

The NHS has had to be creative – as have so many other employers. Some industries, like construction, are back to work, but employees have to maintain social distancing on site. This presents a new challenge for apprentices learning on the job.

If they can’t be on the same plot as their mentor, how can they learn the practical skills they need to progress?

No one knows how long social-distancing guidelines will be in place, so this is likely to impact progression in the long term. I’ve heard some companies trialing elearning or even VR (virtual reality) or AR (augmented reality) for practical skills development. Could this be the future of practical apprenticeships?

Other industries, such as cloud services and accounting, are continuing to work remotely. Despite being more straightforward than other setups, home working brings its own challenges around learning, evidencing and assessment. Providers have setup elearning courses, remote reviews and online portfolios to help their learners progress. Others have even worked with employers to make sure apprentices can share screens and video call other members of staff to shadow them remotely. These times have been challenging for everyone, so it’s inspiring to see the commitment providers and employers have to their apprentices’ progression.

Paul McGrail, Myerscough College, said:

Thanks to the remote systems we have in place, learner engagement has increased from 85% to 94% during Covid-19 – which is great. Progress against target has also increased 10%, which shows just how much learners have embraced OneFile.”

Evidencing and assessing learning in lockdown

No matter what industry you’re in, learning situations have changed so much during lockdown. It’s still unlikely that tutors will be able to visit learners soon, so most providers have adopted remote methods of gathering evidence and assessing on-programme.

Professional discussions can be completed and recorded via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype. Written questions, multiple-choice tests and elearning modules can be completed online. Even observations can be completed remotely. Apprentices can record themselves completing an activity and upload the video as evidence – either as an on-programme assessment or part of their portfolio showcase.

These remote methods are efficient, effective and can also be used for EPA. I heard a great example from Myerscough College of an EPA that was live streamed. The employer filmed their apprentice while they completed their 6-hour golf greenkeeper EPA! This shows amazing creativity, commitment and engagement from the employer – and the learner got a distinction! With the right tech for remote learning, anything is possible.

So where does this leave us and the future of apprenticeship delivery?

Apprenticeships after Covid-19 

Looking to the future is difficult for everyone at the moment. There are still so many unknowns, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. Apprenticeships will continue to be vital to skills development and the future of the UK economy. That’s why the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced his employer incentives for new starts a couple of months ago.

Many industries have been decimated by Covid-19, but as companies start to get up and running again, we could see an increase in new starts – especially in certain sectors. Industries like cloud services, software development and database management are busier than ever and demand for digital solutions doesn’t seem to be waning. These businesses will need highly skilled staff, so digital apprenticeship starts may increase in the future.

Covid-19 has also been a catalyst for remote delivery. It’s no longer a thing of the future – it’s now. Providers may have been forced to transition their delivery due to the pandemic, but it’s here to stay. Several companies I’ve spoken to said that they’ve implemented their 2-year digital strategy in a matter of weeks!

Many of the providers I’ve spoken to have realised all the benefits remote learning can bring. Remote delivery makes it easier for tutors to provide personalised support to all their learners. They can set activities, provide feedback, analyse gaps in learning, track progress, complete reviews and collaborate with employers online. Remote delivery also increases efficiency, improves quality and saves money, so it’s no wonder providers will continue to build their remote offering after lockdown.

Mike Blakeley 100x100Mike Blakeley, Exeter College, said:

This situation may have forced us to think about things differently, but it’s meant that we’re offering better customer service.

“From an efficiency and quality point of view, remote delivery makes sense. And in the long term, we’ll see even better results.”

Susanna Lawson, CEO & co-founder | OneFile

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