Now that some of the dust has settled from 2017's major apprenticeship reforms, at OneFile, we wanted to bring together providers, employers, employer-providers, sector experts and sector businesses to discuss the state of the sector – so we did! At OneCon 2018, we invited all our customers to join us for a day of debate, developments and delicious pastries at the Etihad stadium – here's how the day went down.

First up was our director, co-founder and compère extraordinaire Susanna, who started the show with a quick round-up of 2017. It was a big year for OneFile: we won the Queen's Award for Innovation; made it our mission to shape the futures of 1 million people by 2020, and released more than 20 product developments.

To talk us through these developments, the OneFile product owners took to the stage. Adam, Keron and Kez are the three wise men of OneFile: the guys in charge of gifting new features and enhanced functionality to our users. They showcased the new features OneFile released last year, from our brand new VLE to our EPA portfolio showcase. Paul McGrail, Assistant Principal at Myerscough College, said, "The distance [OneFile has] travelled is immense."

We believe it's important for our customers to know why we develop certain features, and this is where our product owners really shone: they explained the impact of each feature, and demonstrated how to get the most from them, so that our customers can deliver the best training possible. At both the London and Manchester conferences, our 20% off-the-job training development received cheers from our customers – testament to the fact that over 420,000 off-the-job records have been created since the release!

Next it was time for a quick tea break, and we invited our attendees to chat with our exhibiting partners – BKSB, AELP, Highfield, TheTalentFinders and CognAssist – over a brew. Each stand had something different and exciting to offer: BKSB offered their sector expertise and demos of their award-winning GCSE and functional skills software and its OneFile integration, while AELP showed off the benefits of joining their association.

Meanwhile, TheTalentFinders showed us how to gamify recruitment with their speed and concentration leaderboards, which were a hit across the board! CognAssist showcased their neurodiversity assessments, which are designed to determine a person's learning needs, and Highfield demonstrated their end-point assessment e-kits. In London, we were joined by the BAME Apprenticeship Alliance, who promoted apprenticeship diversity, and the National Skills Academy, who are a specialist apprenticeship recruitment company.

After another round of pastries, OneFile's senior account manager, Anne, stepped up to lead the 2017 sector review. She started with a change that really rocked the boat last year: the apprenticeship levy. When the levy was first introduced, there were mixed reviews across the sector. But a year on, companies across the country are embracing the levy, and using their funds to invest in apprenticeships – that's why we've built a levy management tool into our flagship eportfolio.

Apprenticeship standards were next under the spotlight. Anne said that the standards are supposed to be short, slick and smart... which led to a few sniggers around the room. Luckily, while we're all still learning about the standards, OneFile's standards team is on-hand to help transform the standards into deliverable criteria. Of the 200 standards in place so far, we've already built 159... and counting!

Anne then went on to talk about the shift from assessing to learning in the new world of apprenticeships, and demonstrated how tutors can save time and adapt to this change using the OneFile VLE. The VLE went down a storm with our customers, with many of them frantically scribbling notes, keen to join the 300 centres already using it.

Next, the boys were back in town, and ready to look to the future as they showcased our roadmap for 2018. Our focus for next year is all about increasing knowledge of how customers use OneFile. We're installing analytics to show us how people use our products, and conducting usability tests to see it in the flesh.

At any away day from the office, lunch is a pretty important part – and boy, did the Etihad chefs deliver. We had fish and chips (classic Friday fare), pesto chicken skewers, cheesy mushroom sliders, and warming leek and potato soup.

After a hearty lunch, it was time to hear some sector stories. In Manchester, we heard from Terry Smith and Matt Taylor from Aspire Education Academy, who shared their successes following last year's apprenticeship reforms. Over the course of 2 months, they've grown from 10 to 70 tutors by winning levy contracts, so they shared how they've got around some of the major reform stumbling blocks, including 20% off-the-job training.

Next up was sector scholar Dilys Taylor, whose presentation was all about one thing: progress. Following some light bedtime reading of the Ofsted inspection framework, Dilys found that the word 'progress' was mentioned over 150 times in one section alone – which shows just how important it is. Dilys emphasised technology's role in helping providers meet the inspection framework – but also highlighted the digital skills gap that's plaguing 23% of businesses. OneFile's smart, simple-to-use technology helps overcome this skills gap: providers can use it to identify high-achieving learners and plan activities to stretch and challenge them.

Dilys, Terry and Matt then joined Susanna for the ask-an-expert Q&A session. As you might expect, most of the questions were about off-the-job training, and our panel were keen to share their expertise. Terry has found OneFile a highly valuable tool for convincing employers that off-the-job training benefits businesses as well as learners. He's found that as long as employers can see the progress on OneFile, they know they're receiving quality learning that makes a difference to the learner and the employer. Dilys emphasised the importance of being creative when it comes to off-the-job training, and enabling tutors to recognise when it occurs – it doesn't have to be blocks of time in college!

We rounded off a fun- and fact-filled Friday with an EPA session from end-point assessment organisation, Highfield. Dom shared information about their resources, and how they support apprentices to pass their end-point assessments with flying colours.

That's a wrap! As the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust attendees told us, "It's always difficult to justify time away from the office, but OneCon was so valuable – we're so glad we came!" We'd like to thank everyone who exhibited, presented, attended and supported OneCon 2018 – we had a blast. It's always a pleasure to spend time with our customers and partners, and we can't wait to embrace 2018 and shape more futures!

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