From education to employment

Wellbeing in the workplace is more important than ever

Skern Training

 After a year of uncertainty and upheaval, it’s never been more important to look after employees’ wellbeing to give your company the best chance of a successful future.

This is the message from three national companies that in the past 12 months have invested time, thought and effort into ensuring that today’s apprentices and graduates are armed with the skills and mentality to cope with the demands of the workplace during the pandemic and after.

Skern Training & Skills runs development courses for businesses and their staff, with programmes tailored to suit specific needs.

This year the company has taken groups of apprentices and graduates from a range of organisations, including Great Western Railway and First Group, putting the young people through their paces during various outdoor activities. 

Each of the three organisations went to great lengths to ensure that all staff on the courses were safe – physically and mentally – and the plans were even run past trade unions for assurance.

Great Western Railway and First Group both agreed that the advanced welfare protocols put in place were well worth it, just so they could get their staff interacting face to face again.

Andrew Perry, Learning and Development Manager at Great Western Railway, said: “Because of the pandemic, the whole ethos of how we train apprentices has changed. The Skern Training & Skills course is about the apprentices getting outside and building their skills. That’s really important, so even with lockdown we were still desperate to make the week happen, to give our apprentices a sense of normality. 

“The thing is, the world has gone remote, with everything being insular and virtual, but we’ve always tried to make sure our apprentices scheme is hands on. The courses we devised with Skern Training & Skills were as near normal as we could make them. 

“We wanted to do it, but to do it in the safest way possible, so there were myriad safety things we had to do beforehand. It was all definitely worth it. The courses promote wellbeing, helping to prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive.

“I firmly believe that good health and wellbeing can be a core enabler of employee engagement and organisational performance. It really is something that all businesses should invest in.

“Before going to Skern Training & Skills, we shared our company values with them and they incorporated these into our time with them. We had two groups of apprentices there, aged 16 and upwards. It was difficult and challenging for them, but by the end of the week they were saying it was one of the best experiences they’d ever had.

“The week allowed them to learn together and achieve together before going into the workplace and applying everything they’d learned. These people are our future and we have to ensure that they get the best possible start in their career. The first step is about giving them a strong sense of confidence and wellbeing.” 

With so many people working from home this year, some have missed the usual support they receive from their workplaces and colleagues.

Paul Siaens, Graduate Resourcing and Development Manager at First Group, said his company was greatly aware that communication and people skills, as well as confidence and general learning, can sometimes be adversely affected by remote working.

To go some way towards offsetting this, Paul sent his graduates on a five-day Skern Training & Skills course that included activities such as high ropes, team-based assault course, practical problem-solving, climbing and abseiling.

He added: “One of the main reasons we were so keen to return to Skern Training & Skills this year was that we wanted to give our graduates a chance to actually have human interaction. Zoom is great, but people are missing seeing other people in person and communicating directly.

“We wanted our graduates to reconnect. They work in a pressured environment and I wanted them to experience things that would challenge them and then for them to think about how to use those experiences in their day-to-day work.

“Their time with Skern Training & Skills enabled them to learn about themselves and be better prepared to start their second year on our programmes, allowing them to push their boundaries without risk. They learned that they aren’t alone.

“The Skern Training & Skills courses don’t try to alter but consider behaviour. There’s no right or wrong. Everyone has something to contribute, whatever their skills or personality. Everyone has their place, and there’s a reflective analysis with every step of the process.

“Those who did the course two and three years ago still talk about it now, and each year I certainly see a difference in the graduates before and after the course. Those who did it last year have come on leaps and bounds. So there’s no doubt in my mind that it is an investment in the future.

“We have graduates who’ve been with us nearly 20 years, with a third of our graduate population staying with the business for ten years or more, which I think says a lot about how we train our graduates. We have a responsibility to the people we employ, and it’s in everyone’s interest if they have the confidence to think outside the box about how best to deliver their objectives.

“You don’t have to spend a lot to gain a lot from your staff. Companies need to be creative in their approach to wellbeing. Generally speaking, I think mental wellbeing has often been undervalued in the workplace, but more and more companies are now recognising this and addressing it.

“That is definitely the way forward for us all. We have been going to Skern Training & Skills for three or four years and what’s really important is that they build unique courses as a result of the planning discussions they have with you. We all look at what we’re trying to achieve and work towards that.

“That is why, with all the safety measures in place, we were determined that our graduates were able to go to Skern Training & Skills again this year. We wanted them to connect with each other and bounce ideas off each other, to experience being in a different environment with people again, and then take their learning back into the workplace, feeling good about themselves and about the job they do.”

Skern Training & Skills said that this year, more than ever before, businesses doing its courses have wanted to understand what keeps their staff well, and identify what has affected employees’ wellbeing during the pandemic.

Richard Thomas, Skern Training & Skills training and development manager, added: “Even now, at the end of what has been a long and challenging year for so many, people are still adapting to their new ways of working. They are learning what works best for them and their employer, while striving to balance productivity with personal wellbeing.

“Our aim this year has been to adapt to the needs of the groups that come to us, while ensuring that they are able to adapt to the COVID restrictions without it impacting on their activities or relaxed approach.

“We have been operating successfully since guidance allowed in early July. We ran our own QR track-and-trace system ahead of the more recent NHS system, and we get regular updates from UK Hospitality, Visit Britain, local authorities, Public Health England and various other organisations, to make sure we’re always up to date.

“By doing this we are safeguarding clients and giving them piece of mind. We want their experience to be as near to normal as possible while being completely safe, so that they focus on what they’re doing rather than having any concerns about the safety measures. 

“This way they can get the maximum out of their experience and then take their learning back to their jobs. As the world prepares, hopefully, for a gradual return to normal next year, this sort of experience is ideal for companies’ staff.

“We all have to plan ahead for what is likely to be a staged return to work over what could be prolonged periods. We will have to consider what principles should drive us to do this well, and central to these principles should be how we take care of our people.

“A lot of employees will be apprehensive about being back in their workplaces or travelling to workplaces, and they will want to know that their organisations are supporting their mental wellbeing before and during the transition. 

“I suppose there is a risk that because of the past year, some companies will be tighter with expenditure and that staff support might suffer, but in my experience the wellbeing of staff is one of the most important assets a business possesses. 

“Employers shouldn’t want their staff to have fears or doubts when they’re having to make decisions or planning ahead. Next year things will doubtless change frequently, so it’s important that businesses can see what changes are happening and see what keeps their staff well. 

“A way of doing this is to give employees an active and valued voice. A strong relationship between employer and employee will always result in effective productivity.”

Skern Training & Skills works with businesses to provide unique development plans catered to specific goals and needs. For more information or to discuss how Skern Training & Skills could assist your business visit

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