Daniel Richardson

@dwrichardson999 - Discussing the unique features of the block apprenticeship system @Exclaimer  

The global leader in email signature management solutions, Exclaimer, has been running its apprenticeship scheme for just over 2 years, providing a springboard for either current staff or external candidates to gain formal qualifications in engineering and support, in a practical, technology-focused environment.

The schemes currently available at the company are set for a variety of ages, abilities and needs starting at a level 3 intermediate qualification and progressing up to a master’s degree equivalent at level 7.

Unique features

Intermediate schemes are split into 4-week blocks which run over 18 months and involve at least 8 weeks of external training. For advanced courses, it takes at least 36 months to achieve a full qualification.

The block- style training usually begins once an apprentice has been working in the office for a couple of months, as Exclaimer firmly believes its apprenticeship candidates need to get used to the business and working in regular nine-to-five roles before any external training can take place.

There is a skills coach assigned to everyone, so they can develop their role in a way that is beneficial to both the employee and the business. This form of mentoring means tutors can target specific areas for development in candidates. Their strengths and weaknesses can be identified in the first two months of the scheme, which ensures candidates are sent to relevant external training, which will help them to excel in their role.

External block training is one of the key benefits of the scheme. Candidates attend training in periods of up to a week, which allows them to immerse themselves in their studies away from an office environment. Candidates either attend training at a local centre in Reading or sometimes travel further to London.

If an apprentice is to take training in a more distant location Exclaimer ensures they have hotel accommodation provided for them for the duration of that training period. The external training is also beneficial as candidates are tested at the end of it to assess their progress.

The intensity of the external training allows candidates to focus on their chosen area of expertise and helps them get to grips with more technical aspects of the course, which can be trickier to absorb in a busy office.

Regular assessments mean all students are provided with training tailored to meet their unique needs, helping them achieve their full potential.

Block-style external training is also beneficial because it is easier to plan for than schemes which require an apprentice to have one day a week away from the office. This can be disruptive because finding a replacement for an apprentice, every week, while they are doing ‘off the job’ training can be difficult. With block-style training, an apprentice’s absence can be planned for an entire year in advance, and relevant cover coordinated more easily.

All the benefits of block-style training in Exclaimer’s apprenticeship scheme are complemented by a progressive pay-rise scheme, designed to motivate, and show candidates their hard work and loyalty to the company is valued.

Additional financial incentives have been especially beneficial for younger apprentices, as they can see first-hand how hard work can progress their earning potential.

Looking to the future

Exclaimer likes to select candidates based on their hunger to learn, passion for the course subject and potential. Its open-mindedness has provided opportunities for individuals who may not necessarily have been considered for a role at other companies with a more traditional application process.

Looking to the future, Exclaimer is making it a priority to raise awareness of its apprenticeship scheme among more internal employees, particularly those who might be able to gain additional skill sets from level 4 upwards.

Part of the reason for this is because apprenticeships are not just good for those at the start of their careers but can be beneficial to those who are very good in their current roles but haven’t had any formal training in the past.

The Government recently relaunched the UK Apprenticeship Scheme, which meant for training providers there were a few grey areas. For example, before changes took place, Exclaimer was advised to hire an apprentice at a level three role, because official guidance stated that was the level people had to start at if applying for a role with the company externally.

However, the recent Government changes meant if someone met the level 4 experience and criteria, they could go straight into that position, without having to take the project work required for a level three. Better communication on this matter could have meant some candidates might have been able to start a level above the one they were originally advised to complete.

More consistency would also be useful when it comes to how candidates are assessed, as every training provider does it differently. Making the apprenticeship system more accessible by clarifying end-point assessment and quality assurance processes would be beneficial for employers.

If there was a set standard across the board, there would be less second-guessing about which would be best for the business, making choosing between providers a less time-consuming affair.

The future of apprenticeship schemes post COVID-19 is not yet clear and while block-style training has proved beneficial for Exclaimer in the past, it will be interesting to see how training is adapted to comply with updated Government healthy and safety regulations.

Current candidates have been taking their external training virtually from home, how long this is set to continue for, is still unknown. For the time being, training providers and employers need to work together to ensure training remains both effective and safe for all candidates.

Daniel Richardson, CTO, Exclaimer

About Exclaimer: For nearly 20 years, Exclaimer has been the recognised global market leader in on-premises and cloud-based email signature software and solutions for Office 365, Microsoft Exchange and G Suite.

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