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Learning while you’re earning is a popular career path for many young people so it’s hardly surprising that, according to the British Council, there are currently over 900,000 people on an apprenticeship in the UK.

Employing an apprentice is now straightforward and 89% of employers say they make their business more productive. But with most apprentices working the equivalent of a full-time job, employers can find it a juggling act to manage workloads if their apprentices have to go off-site for training or to attend college.

This is where blended learning comes into its own, and explains why the practical method is becoming the preferred way of delivering training in many of the new apprenticeship standards.

Blended – or hybrid – learning connects learners with their trainers online through chat rooms and live lectures. This means that they don’t have to leave their workplace in order to interact with their tutors or fellow students. Instead they can access videos of lectures, track their progress and view supporting materials related to their assignments, like PowerPoint presentations and relevant articles.

Intequal was the first to run the flexible apprentice pilot scheme and one of the first to adopt the new apprenticeship standards last year, for our network engineer training.

Intequal has always used blended learning for delivering elements of its courses but about a year ago we decided to extend it to the delivery of the technical knowledge training aspect of the new apprenticeships standards, using Skype and online courseware.

Businesses find this a really effective way to get staff trained up. Given Intequal’s national coverage, blended learning it’s great for employers and apprentices because they avoid the disruption of leaving the workplace for training. It also helps students with accessibility issues as they’re already based in an environment that has been adapted to meet their needs, rather than having to travel to somewhere unfamiliar, which may not.

There might still be some hurdles to overcome but there is plenty of support available to help students and their employers settle in. Blended learning can take some apprentices a bit of getting used to, particularly those more accustomed to school-based, classroom style learning. In such cases, Intequal has a skilled team who can help them get to grips with the process.

The other big difference with the new standards is that they are also are focused around a job, with the point being that employers use them to train someone in a role. So bosses must commit a certain number of hours per week for the apprentice to take part in their remote delivery sessions and complete business-focused project work.

Intequal typically delivers its learning through two or three remote sessions per week that involve one trainer for around eight to ten learners. Each session is recorded so if a student is called away at work or they miss a week then it’s possible to catch up.

The trainer is also available for a one-to-one with the learner if they’ve not understood something, plus they can access additional support via a pathway planner. A bit like a mentor, the pathway planner is the key person who coordinates the work of the trainer for each particular student and their line manager.

Training and supporting the learner at work benefits everyone. As long as the thinking behind blended learning is explained properly and understood from the start, Intequal gets great feedback from employers. They’re happy that they don’t have to release the apprentice to a centre for learning and lose both them and their productivity from the workplace. They also like the remote delivery, face-to-face visits, lack of interruptions to work, and the flexibility to accommodate unforeseen events for students.

From the apprentice’s point of view, the online sessions bring learners from various industry backgrounds together, so they can hear each other’s viewpoints and experience different perspectives.

Apprentices and their line managers always have access to the trainer, right through the year, so they contact them at any time rather than wait for a face-to-face meeting.

With employers now more heavily involved in the new standards, the more progressive businesses are also setting projects for their apprentices to do and that means they’re showing a productivity benefit to the business way before the end of the training.

With so many companies expanding their businesses through apprenticeships, it’s vital that productivity is evident all the way through the process. And with blended learning and project-based work, it’s clear to see the learner’s progress as they go along.

Increasing pressure to capitalise on the opportunities that digital technology can bring to the learning process means training providers and employers who are slow to embrace new teaching methods risk missing out, both in terms of attracting students to their courses and getting the best return on their investment.

Rod Harris, Operations Director, Intequal

About Intequal : A Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme Provider delivering framework apprenticeships since October 2013 and new standards since March 2016. The senior management team has over 40 years’ experience in managing employer-led apprenticeships in various organisations.

Intequal has delivered over 400 framework apprenticeships for 160 employers with a completion rate of 89.5%. Its repeat business with employers is at 43% and 86% of its clients are SMEs.

Intequal programmes have been developed using input and feedback from customers. Intequal has a cutting edge delivery model via online, instructor-led and or blended classroom sessions giving countrywide reach. This minimises workplace disruption for both the employer and apprentice. All apprentices are supported throughout their apprenticeship to ensure successful completion.

Intequal apprenticeships are part of a wider Microsoft programme to promote IT and digital apprenticeships across the UK. Intequal is a Microsoft Learning Partner (Silver) and CompTIA Partner, demonstrating its technical capabilities, strengths and quality of delivery.

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