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Overwhelming support for Skills Bootcamps to continue

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The Skills Bootcamps (employer-led training initiatives) were announced in September 2020 and aimed to test approaches for roll-out to other industries and skillsets.

The aim of bootcamps was to help individuals adjust to the changing economy through training to upskill or reskill so to enable transition from work in declining sectors and occupations into new career directions.

Outcome measures set by the Department for Education (DfE) concerned entry into work or a different job and whether this represented any form of progression.

The bootcamps – which also involved a small number of technical skills courses – comprised intensive, short training programmes (around 2-to-3 month) designed to meet
employers’ skills needs.

There was an additional focus on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) given the digital and technical workforces are white, male dominated.

In Wave 1 – the subject of this process evaluation, regions involved were:

  1. the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA),
  2. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA),
  3. Liverpool City Region (LCR),
  4. West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) implemented via Leeds City Region,
  5. the South West local enterprise partnership (LEP) – Heart of the South West (HotSW) and
  6. the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire LEP (D2N2) 

These areas received grant funding from the Department to develop bootcamps provision for delivery from autumn 2020. In spring 2021, the Department set about commissioning a second wave of bootcamps that would cover all regions of England (Wave 2).

A process evaluation was commissioned to commence in early 2021 and to track the implementation of the Wave 1 bootcamps through qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders, a survey of learners and analysis of the management information (MI) that was available and of suitable quality at the time of reporting. These data did not cover all of the bootcamps and more problematically did not consistently cover all of the geographic areas involved. They therefore cannot be viewed as an accurate picture of all bootcamp provision. Instead, they offer an illustrative overview of the bootcamps that submitted full data.

Alongside the process evaluation, a feasibility study considered the potential and optimal approach to a counterfactual impact assessment of Wave 2 bootcamps. This is being used by the Department to assist its considerations in taking forward a robust evaluation approach to future waves of bootcamps. The process evaluation of Wave 1 is the subject of this report.

Courses and intake

Across the six areas, some 89 courses were offered ranging predominantly from Level 3 to Level 5 with some Level 6 and 7 courses. Digital provision operated in all areas, and covered topics ranging from digital marketing, women in software engineering, cloud services engineer, computer aided design (CAD), coding, cybersecurity, IT, social media and digital leadership.

HotSW introduced some technical skills courses including energy and marine design, welding, and electrical and mechanical skills.

Over 350 employers were recorded as being involved, however as no data on this were reported in some areas, the actual number was likely to be higher. DfE set a target for 60% of employers to be SMEs; the management information (MI) indicated that bootcamps outperformed this target, with 76% of employers involved having no more
than 249 employees. 

The MI data from those providers submitting data of suitable quality to analyse, suggested that over 2,500 people were recorded having applied to bootcamps courses.
Of these, around 820 gained a place on a bootcamp.

While the proportion of women enrolled was slightly less than the proportion of men, at 48%, this still represented a much higher proportion of women than seen in the digital workforce (which is reported to have been just under 20% for some considerable time).

The biggest age group of learners taking part was 26-35 years (44%), with 36-45 year olds forming the second largest age group. Around a third of learners were from minority ethnic groups with the Asian / Asian British and other ethnic groups showing the largest proportions beyond the white / white British group. A tenth of the learners were disabled. Just under a quarter had caring responsibilities.

Over a third of learners recorded in the analysable MI were already qualified to Level 6 and a quarter were qualified to Level 3. Sixteen per cent were at or below Level 2. Two-thirds were working on joining their courses – either full-time, part-time or self-employed and the majority of these intended to continue working alongside training.

The largest occupational group of learners taking part was associate professional occupations, representing around a third of the cohort.

Implementation

The regional leads indicated that the bootcamps were a good fit for local priorities, which were identified in local industrial strategies and local inclusive growth strategies. The pandemic had hastened longer term trends in some industries, which meant the bootcamps were well timed to support individuals to make career transitions; it had also increased employers’ needs for basic digital skills as well as higher level digital skills.

The bootcamps offer was developed at speed. Some areas built on existing consortia and partnerships for prior pilot bootcamps, and all drew on existing relationships in some way. A key constraint was the limited time to engage employers in co-design. This was mitigated through building on prior provision that had been co-designed with employers and working with employers already in providers’ and regional leads’ networks.

Where they had been involved, employers valued the opportunity to input into the content of bootcamps as it meant they felt confident that the skills learners acquired would mean they would be productive staff after training. Notably, technical skills bootcamps were all located with specific employers, which indicated close involvement at the design stage.

Level of demand and recruitment processes

For the most part, social media platforms and other advertising were used to market digital and technical bootcamps, including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and LinkedIn
although for technical bootcamps, working with employers was common. Learners typically indicated that they had referred themselves to training, though in some areas,
Jobcentre Plus referred unemployed people as did some third parties such as employment support services.

The MI data indicated that there were more than 2 learners applying for each place available, although this varied considerably by area and given the very different rate in
WMCA (4:1) may have indicated recording differences. Some areas had a waiting list from their prior, pilot bootcamps whereas others were generating demand from scratch. 

In terms of selecting learners to take part, providers participating in this evaluation did not rely particularly on prior education level or qualifications. These providers instead tended to focus on capability and motivation to work in the industry which might be judged by having done some prior self-directed relevant learning discussed during recruitment interviews or expressing a passion and motivation to work in the industry.

Some focused further to identify those learners, who despite their passion, were facing obstacles in gaining work in the digital industry. As noted, DfE wished to actively pursue equality, diversity and inclusion in recruitment for bootcamps. Accordingly, some courses were specialised (e.g., women in software engineering) or providers took care to ensure a range of learners were included. Learners taking part in the qualitative research reported the selection processes had been straightforward.

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Most commonly learners joined their courses in order ‘to gain new skills’ (88% of survey respondents), followed by ‘to gain new qualifications’ (55%), ‘to gain employment in
another industry’ (51%) and ‘to find out about a different career’ (43%). The potential for contact with employers and industry experts, as well as experience and exposure in the field was important to all learners taking part in the qualitative interviews.

Delivery and course experiences

The delivery of courses was affected by COVID-19. This meant a rapid move to pure, online learning for the digital courses i.e. with no face-to-face elements. Broadly, this
transition went well with providers and regional leads working to overcome digital inclusion issues and providers setting in place group chat opportunities to replace learner
networking that would be established as part of classroom learning. In contrast, technical skills bootcamps had to be delayed until guidance allowed face-to-face delivery with social distancing. As these latter courses were being delivered for specific employers and their employees, this made the process easier to manage.

The shift to fully online provision for digital bootcamps mostly increased flexibility in delivery with providers offering the training input and tutorial sessions at various times of the day including evenings and weekends. Despite fears that the increased burdens on parents, particularly mothers, from home-schooling would increase rates of drop-out, the MI indicated no gender or caring dimensions to this, and an early exit rate of around 10% which is broadly in line with retention rates seen for adult Level 3 provision. 

Overall, flexibility in the delivery of training was shown to be a critical success factor for the digital bootcamps and enabled large numbers of learners to continue working while training.

Learning support was also important, both in terms of tutorials and wider support. The support related to the curriculum included recording virtual classroom sessions so that learners could go over content again, or catch up easily if they missed a session, and embedding peer support through using group chat apps. Some providers also described wrap-around support covering: technical assistance, additional ‘stretch’ learning activity for capable learners; support to build confidence, on career plans as well as welfare and personal issues.

Three-quarters of the respondents to the learner survey believed that their training met or was meeting their needs. Nearly all of these learners agreed that their course was helping or had helped them to develop new skills. 

Understanding quality

Providers participating in this evaluation identified a few factors that indicated the quality of the provision. The first was that it was employer-led and met employers’ skills needs. A second factor was the quality of teaching and learning, and particularly of teaching staff who were people with industry experience and often high profiles in the industry.

Providers also highlighted the role for learner feedback in determining quality.

The learner survey indicated that just under three-quarters of respondents agreed thatnthey were satisfied with the quality of the teaching they received, and just over three-quarters (76%) of respondents agreed that they were satisfied with the quality of the content of their training. Moreover, nearly four-in-five (79%) were satisfied with their course overall. Where learners reported positive experiences of their courses, it was often related to the teaching style, or an individual trainer. This was particularly true when trainers went the ‘extra mile’ in the service that they provided.

Reported outcomes

Data sets were incomplete and therefore cannot be considered a comprehensive source on outcomes however, the MI that could be analysed for this process evaluation
suggested that 84% of learners completed all their assessments and assignments and 81% passed their assessments. The average attendance rate was close to 65%. The analysis of these data (covering only those providers and course for which there was suitable quality data) suggested that women had much higher attendance rates than men, were more likely to complete all the assignments and assessments than men, and also, they were much more likely to pass all the assessments than their male
counterparts. There were no substantial differences in rates of completion or passing assessment by ethnic group, so BAME learners got on as well as white / white British
learners in their courses. Being a carer did not have a negative impact on these outcomes.

As noted earlier, large numbers of learners started their course while working. At the time of survey fieldwork, results indicated very little change in working status for respondents. 

However, while white learners were more likely to be employed on starting their courses (66% compared to the overall rate of 63%) and BAME learners were more likely to be unemployed (33% compared to the total of 31% unemployed). Data suggested that the proportion of BAME learners who were unemployed at the time of the survey was lower than seen immediately prior to course (43% were unemployed prior to their course).

Just under three-in-five (59%) of all respondents to the learner survey agreed that their bootcamps training would give or had given them a certificate, portfolio or accreditation that is valued by employers. Learners in the qualitative research cited the value of applied experience and demonstrable skills to themselves and employers. Some saw their portfolio as a substitute for a formal qualification and highlighted the tangible examples of their skills this meant that they had to offer employers.
A little over two-in-five (44%) survey respondents agreed that their training and provision would be sufficient for them to apply for a job in their industry, which was a strong finding given that most had yet to complete their courses (19% of the respondents reported that they had completed their courses) and many were training from a position of employment, potentially in relation to their current role.

Learners taking part in the qualitative research were generally positive about their outcomes at the end of their courses. While many had not yet finished their training at the time of interview, they believed the bootcamps would add to their repertoire of skills and allow for future success. Where learners favoured self-employment or further education over getting a job, they reported the learning as improving the opportunities of their self-employment or opening the door for further educational pathways.

Conclusions

The bootcamps were well received by all stakeholders engaged in the evaluation. The suggested high rates of completion alongside learners passing the planned assessments and assignments.

It was notable that women participants saw high rates of success in courses, and despite the impacts of the pandemic on carers (including those looking after dependent children) this did not appear to have a substantial effect on outcomes. There was overwhelming support for bootcamps to continue to be offered amongst those involved in the evaluation.

This evaluation suggests that critical success factors in delivering the bootcamps included flexible and responsive provision which supported learners to train around their
existing employment and personal commitments.

Second, highly skilled training courses and the close alignment of provision to employers needs were highlighted.

Finally, employer involvement in bootcamp training delivery – through learner talks, project briefs and wider networking meant that learners felt well briefed on industry needs.


Skills Bootcamps wave 1: process evaluation 

Research report for the process evaluation of Skills Bootcamps wave 1.

Applies to England

Documents

Skills Bootcamps process evaluation of wave 1

Ref: ISBN 978-1-83870-291-5, DFE-RR1150PDF, 565KB, 87 pages

Details

This process evaluation was commissioned to track the implementation of wave 1 of the Skills Bootcamps.

The evaluation includes qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders, a survey of learners and analysis of management information.

This process evaluation has delivered useful findings which highlight the successes and challenges of the first wave of the Skills Bootcamps programme. This will inform how the programme can be more effectively implemented in further Bootcamp provision.

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