From education to employment

What’s it like to do user testing with employers?

An insight from ESFA user researcher Ayiesha Russell into how we conduct user research and testing to help inform and improve the apprenticeship service from a user-centric perspective

The Skills Show in Birmingham last November, with visitor numbers of over 73,000, was an ideal opportunity for my team to conduct some user testing with employers interested in apprenticeships.

In just 2 days we managed to speak to 73 users and potential users of the apprenticeship service representing over 50 different employers. Our focus was on testing 4 early prototypes of a new ‘landing page’ for the service.

Prototypes – a first look

The 4 prototypes we presented to employers contained information on various aspects of the service, but each one used different formats and approaches. Seeing what employers thought of each prototype has helped us to identify which elements matter most to users and what information they would like to see have prominence.

Through discussion with users we explored the rationale behind each employer choice, which increased our understanding of:

  • What employers need from the apprenticeship service
  • Current blockers to taking on apprentices
  • The types of content most valuable to employers
  • The dynamics between training providers, employers and industry professional bodies
  • Employer hopes for the future of the service

What did we learn?

One of our initial assumptions was that most levy-paying employers would already know how to hire an apprentice. In fact, many employers we spoke to said that they didn’t have a firm understanding of this.

We were also surprised by how many levy-paying organisations also wanted to become training providers.

Employers we met expressed a desire to see case studies showing successful apprenticeships, from both the perspective of the employer and the apprentice. In particular, they felt it would be beneficial to see case studies of employers that were similar to their own organisations in terms of size and sector. In addition, they had an expectation that video content would be included as part of a case study offering.

Since the event, we’ve been able to take this feedback and share it with our colleagues in ESFA, including presenting a ‘show and tell’ of our findings.

Next steps – keeping employers engaged in our design process

Not only were we able to speak to so many users in one place, we’ve been delighted that over 50 employers we spoke to have been keen to offer us further time and assistance with the design of the apprenticeship service.

This is invaluable, because as a digital service, we can’t create a great product without focusing on real users and their needs and preferences.

As a result of the 2 days of user testing at the Skills Show we have now worked on a refined prototype design that better reflects the 8 emerging user needs that were identified by employers, and we have an increased understanding of the design features and content that employers respond well to.

We have conducted 31 follow-up user research sessions since the Skills Show and have more booked with employers across the country over the next few weeks. These employers work across a variety of sectors from healthcare to logistics and are geographically spread from Somerset to Lancashire.

So, we’re really looking forward to being kept very busy meeting our users and using their input to help shape a better service.

Ayiesha Russell, ESFA user researcher

If you are an employer and would like to provide feedback to help us shape the apprenticeship service, please take part in our online employer survey.

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