From education to employment

The value of building outdoor experiences into an expanding pool of apprenticeship opportunities

Richard Thomas, Executive Director, Skern Group

The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (7-13th February) is #BuildTheFuture, which reflects on how apprenticeships can help individuals develop knowledge and skills in their chosen profession, and how employers can nurture future talent to support long-term business needs.

As companies face the challenge of a post-pandemic and post-Brexit skills crunch, many are using workplace training as a way of attracting new employees.  

A combination of Government incentives, the Skills and post-16 Education Bill, which sets out to prioritise local regions and create more routes into skilled employment with better training, plus a generally greater sense of social responsibility upheld by companies, has contributed to an increase in apprenticeships training uptake compared to pre-pandemic. 130,200 apprenticeships began between August and October in 2021, compared to 125,800 in 2019.

Apprenticeships are increasingly seen by those participating as a way to learn a trade, upskill or gain a degree whilst working and earning. Aside from the appeal for young people of embarking on life in the real world, debt free, apprenticeships are becoming more widely recognised for facilitating all-round personal development, fundamental to building a resilient workforce for the future.

Adding considerable value to this combination of practical workplace experience and training to develop knowledge, behaviour and skills, is the incorporation of the outdoors into training activities and programmes.

Richard Thomas, Executive Director, Skern Group which provides apprenticeship training and bespoke educational programmes for schools and corporates, has several decades’ experience in delivering outcome-focused outdoor learning activities. He comments:

“We use outdoor activities in our apprenticeship training programmes to, for example, improve teamwork skills, to develop confidence in leadership, to help identify barriers and how to overcome them. We consistently observe significant behavioural changes through energetic and determined participation that can be meaningfully applied in the workplace.”

Part of leading outdoor learning specialist Inspiring Learning, Skern Group currently provides apprenticeship training to gain qualifications as a Hospitality Team Member Level 2 (GCSE equivalent), Hospitality Supervisor Level 3 (A-level equivalent), Team Leader or Supervisor (Level 3), Operations or Departmental Manager Level 5 (Foundation degree equivalent) and Outdoor Activity Instructor (Level 3).

Until now, outdoor learning-related apprenticeships have provided an opportunity to gain up to a Level 3 qualification, however the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) has recently approved a new Level 5 Outdoor Learning Specialist Apprenticeship. To begin this apprenticeship, employees will be expected to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviour of a Level 3 Outdoor Activity Instructor.

Alex Coyle, Head of Skern Training and Skills, comments: “As a member of the IfATE Trailblazer Group, responsible for developing apprenticeships, Skern Group is pleased that the benefits of outdoor learning are receiving further recognition through the new Level 5 Outdoor Learning Specialist Apprenticeship.

“The credibility of the outdoors world is on the up. Apart from the physical health benefits, people who learn through outdoor activities are engaged, communicative and determined.”

The Skills and post-16 Education Bill aims to enable a wider range of age groups to gain the skills they want, when they need them. Notably, Skern Group has seen a 50% increase in applications for its 24+ age group apprenticeships, as more people are deciding to upskill or retrain. Greater support to switch careers allows people to take control of their professional lives, while progressing their own personal development through training and skills development in the outdoors.

The rise in apprenticeships is not solely down to Government incentives and reforms to education. The perception of apprenticeships has significantly shifted over the past few years, and they are now regarded with greater respect as one of a range of options for young people to further their learning, alongside university degree courses and, currently less widely known, degree apprenticeships.

The IfATE launched a consultation on 16 July 2021 on the development and delivery of degree apprenticeships. The consultation received 208 responses from a wide range of organisations including higher education institutions (HEIs), employers and end-point assessment organisations (EPAOs). 85% supported greater integration of on-the-job and off-the-job training, 79% backed alignment with occupational standards, 73% agreed with integrating end-point assessment with the final degree assessment.

In response to the growing recognition of the value of apprenticeships Richard Thomas says: “As the world experiences the ‘Great Resignation’, employers are having to work twice as hard to retain staff members. By shaping staff culture and ethos from the outset, apprenticeships can help with the formation of a more engaged team. Through adding outdoor learning to apprenticeship training, a rich mix of outcomes can deliver an energetic, confident and skilled workforce equipped for the future.”

By Richard Thomas, Exec. Director at Skern Lodge

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