Lee Evans, CEO, Prepare to Achieve

Prepare to Achieve CEO, Lee Evans, talks potential #EPA changes in 2021... 

2020 was full of challenges for us all – not least apprentices, who often saw their learning interrupted and their workplaces turned upside down. 2021 marks not just a new year, but a new opportunity for apprentices to complete their training and continue on their career journeys, armed with the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to succeed.

The impact of Coronavirus will remain with us for some time and it’s clear that apprentice’s ability to complete their training and undertake EPA won’t simply return to normal. For example, an estimated 30,000 work-based learners, predominately in the Health and Social Care sector, have been unable to complete their Maths and English Functional Skills. This has left Apprentices stuck in limbo. As we hope to get back to normal in the months ahead, it is now more important than ever that measures are put in place to clear the backlog and support apprentices to finish their training.

This is only the latest challenge for EPA, which did not have an easy birth. For several years after the apprenticeship reforms were introduced, numbers for EPA remained stubbornly low. By early 2020, volumes were beginning to pick up and the sector was becoming more familiar with EPA and its requirements. But then COVID-19 struck and the world of apprenticeships, EPA and work-based learning was turned on its head.

Many EPAOs took early steps, in partnership with our External Quality Assurers, to adapt EPA to the new way of life. We had to be as creative as we could – within the regulatory requirements – to ensure EPA could continue and learners could undertake assessments.

In our case, we did this by investing in our digital EPA platform which enables remote End-Point Assessment to take place and putting more of our resources and forms online. For a while, this enabled apprentices to continue with EPA but today, with people continuing to work from home, social care providers in lockdown, and a bottle-neck in on-programme elements (such as Functional Skills), the sector is struggling once again.

What should we do now?

As we move further in to 2021, it is my hope that the guidelines around Functional Skills change to allow apprentices to progress with their apprenticeship. At the same time, our sector should agree on where the innovations that we saw last year across the sector will be continued. Wherever possible, the emphasis should be on keeping flexibilities which do not compromise quality in place. Not only will this help the EPA sector to be better in general, but it will also help make sure we are better prepared for future disruptions.

The role of technology will be key. In my opinion, tech-based solutions must continue to be at the heart of EPA, most obviously in ensuring that where EPA can be done remotely it is possible to do so. The continuation of remote EPA will help in reducing cost of assessment, speed up bookings, and introduce more flexibility into the process for apprentices and employers.

Technology should also be used to provide better and more effective feedback. EPA organisations should look to their systems to produce meaningful, quality feedback for learners, employers, and training providers. By doing this, we will see the quality of apprenticeship delivery increase, as well as providing employers with meaningful data about their employees which could support with future training needs analysis.

With the country once again in lockdown, it is evident we will be facing many of last year’s challenges this year, too. As an industry we must remain proud of the value EPA contributes to the apprenticeship sector whilst remembering that rigid processes for EPA are not always best. 2021 should be the year to look forward and create the EPA sector that best benefits Government, employers, training providers, and most importantly the apprentices themselves.

Lee Evans, CEO, Prepare to Achieve

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