Engaging directly through digital channels @ESFAdigital 

An exciting challenge is how we create our capability to engage directly with employers through digital channels, driven by data.

We’re thinking about our technology, creating new roles for people in the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), upskilling our own people, creating new business processes to capture customer data, and planning campaign journeys – to bring citizens through from awareness to action.

As part of this we’re using a software tool called Marketo that will enable us to move into the world of marketing automation – using service data to personalise the information customers receive from us via email and through social media platforms. This will help us to reach a wider audience, as we open up the apprenticeship service to smaller employers.

We’re excited about personalising the service we provide for those users. For instance, if we know a small business is searching for accountancy standards, and they haven’t employed apprentices before, then we can use that insight to know better what kinds of content to share with them and at what point.

If they search for a standard and then don’t act, we can plan in a nudge intervention of an email or phone call.

Of course, this level of information sourcing will require informed consent from the end user. If they are more cautious about sharing data then they will still receive and access information, but if they provide more data then we can give them a truly personalised and hopefully more relevant experience.

A challenge for us is that we are trailblazers in this space and these are complex services at scale. The best relevant example we can point to is Amazon, a platform which brings together sellers and buyers in a seamless way. They really know their customers, and support them to make the right choices for them.

Customer journey, from inspire, to inform, to decide, then act

Employer engagement

The apprenticeship service team works closely with the employer relations and communications division, bringing their face-to-face customer experience expertise to unite with the systems thinking and data from our digital services.

It’s a powerful combination of data, insight and diverse skills and people. We want to revolutionise quality in apprenticeships, ensuring that employers, citizens and parents have confidence in apprenticeships, and that apprentices get the experience and outcomes they deserve, with the best training providers and assessment organisations to make it happen.

Looking to the future

We are entering new territory. To date, much of ESFA’s focus has been on the top 6,000 or so employers, accounting for 95% of the apprenticeship levy. It made business sense, at the outset, to focus our engagement resources on targeting those companies.

But now, we’re moving to a new world, in which all businesses can register on the apprenticeship service in a phased approach, and we can’t extend our face-to-face and telephone account management offering to up to 150,000 employers.

We will use marketing automation and machine learning to get to know those customers, offering neutral, trusted advice and information. We plan to be joined up, so we’re not just talking about apprenticeships but about the whole offering to employers and citizens of T Levels, traineeships and supported internships.

We want to help employers make good decisions and to provide excellent apprenticeship programmes. And we aim to give businesses tools that let them assess the return on investment for their organisation, so they can make a compelling case to their colleagues about the impact of hiring apprentices and upskilling existing workforces with skills training.

As a government organisation, we can promote the benefits of reaching marginalised, disadvantaged groups and increasing diversity in recruitment and opportunities. This is even more important with the economic impact of the pandemic and the potential for increased marginalisation in society.

Apart from Covid-19, perhaps our biggest challenge as an organisation is belief. When we starting talking about an agile way of working and having product owners and service streams, it was a radical shift in thinking, culture and direction. Now that we’ve proved it can work, building up, constantly testing and iterating, our next hurdle is to scale up and again significantly change our business model and how our teams look and operate.

It’s an exciting time to work here and we don’t yet know what the roles will be and how our teams will change and develop. But we do know that we want to make a positive difference to customers, raising the prestige of technical education.

We are ready for the challenge and we will do our utmost to take people on that journey with us, into a brighter, bolder, bigger, data-driven future.

Eileen Logie, Deputy Director – Apprenticeship Service, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

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