Support from trainers helps North Wales learners overcome lockdown barriers
Apprentices and trainees across Wales have been able to progress with their learning programmes during the Coronavirus lockdown thanks to responsive and innovative changes made by their training providers, including online and practical support.
Training providers have shown agility in adapting their learning delivery methods to ensure that their learners don’t fall behind with learning programmes because of the lockdown restrictions.
Online platforms such at Google Hangouts, Smart Rooms, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facebook have allowed training providers to keep in touch with and support apprentices and trainees to complete, review and assess units of their Apprenticeships and Traineeships.
The result of this agile skills delivery is that learners will be in a strong position to complete their learning programmes when the lockdown is lifted.
Training providers across Wales, most of whom are members of the National Training Federation of Wales (NTfW), have contracts with the Welsh Government to deliver learning programmes ranging from Traineeships to Higher Apprenticeships.
During the lockdown, they are unable to arrange physical face-to-face meetings with their learners who fall into three categories: furloughed or made redundant; still working and with limited time to continue their learning because of work pressure on the frontline; and working normally either from home or at their usual workplace.
For those learners with barriers to learning, most of whom are working towards Traineeships, training providers are staying in regular contact with them and arranging virtual group meetings to ensure their wellbeing and to provide work to be completed at home.
The valuable contribution made by training providers has largely continued unnoticed during the pandemic, with the focus very much on the NHS, carers, schools and other frontline workers. However, their work will prove invaluable in helping to provide the skills to get the country’s economy up and running following the lockdown.
The new ways of working have benefited not only learners but also the training providers themselves who have upgraded and developed new skills.
Jeff Protheroe is director of operations at the NTfW, a membership organisation of more than 70 quality assured work-based learning providers with links to thousands of employers across Wales.
“It is a challenging and worrying time, but training providers are busier than ever and deserve credit for changing their delivery model overnight,” he said. “The new ways of working are very effective because providers are squeezing so much into a day by not having to travel around.
“At the end of the lockdown, we should be in a much better position in terms of digital delivery models and new ways of working which will ultimately prove beneficial. There has also been a real appetite by learners to progress with their apprenticeships and traineeships.”
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates, said: “Apprentices and trainees make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy, and they are going to be absolutely vital as we shape the recovery from the crisis.
“It is our aim to not just bounce back from this pandemic, but to build back better by creating a national economy which sees wealth and prosperity spread more equally throughout Wales – apprentices and trainees are key to this.
“Despite this being an immensely challenging period, it has highlighted the talent, commitment and incredible resilience of the training providers supporting individuals here in Wales. Their contribution has not gone unnoticed and their efforts give me confidence for the future.”
NTfW interim chairman John Nash, a director of TSW Training in Bridgend, said: “We welcome Economy Minister Ken Skates’ recognition of the key role that apprentices and trainees will play in the future recovery of the Welsh economy, as it is known that young people can be adversely affected by the impacts of a recession.
“As we bounce back from this pandemic, Wales is going to need skills more than ever. The NTfW and its members are committed to working closely with the Minister and his team to contribute to the Welsh Government’s economic recovery plans and secure the future of apprentices and trainees in Wales.”
One North Wales based training provider, North Wales Training, says staff, apprentices and trainees have all adapted well to the new ways of delivering training remotely.
Employing 56 staff, the company delivers learning programmes to 470 apprentices and 95 trainees in health care and public services, management and professional, hospitality and retailing and customer service.
Staff use Zoom, What’s App and the Smart Assessor e-portfolio system to engage with learners, who are also contacted by telephone. Learners are set work targets and log on for Zoom knowledge sessions, professional discussions, assignment work, quiz-based tests.
“Learners are engaged with the learning process and already familiar with Smart Assessor, so the only difference for many is the lack of face to face contact to carry out required observations,” said Ruth Collinge, North Wales Training’s contracts manager.
“Appointment times have been adapted to night-time or early morning to fit in with learners, particularly those in the care sector who struggle with additional shifts and staff, who are working at home with small children.”
Facebook groups have been set up for staff to stay in contact with learners working towards Traineeships. Each morning, staff do an online roll call through the groups to check the wellbeing of learners and Smart Assessor learner activity logs are completed daily.
“Learner reviews are carried out using Zoom video conferencing or by telephone,” explained Ruth. “This method of contacting the learners has been more effective than was anticipated and we have had positive comments from learners during their reviews.
“Social Media has proved to be an excellent method of keeping in touch with learners. Working from home has given us the opportunity to offer Traineeships to learners in more rural areas where they are unable to get to a centre, and this will be developed post COVID-19.”
One of the company’s learners is Samantha Hobson, 16, from Llandudno, who is on a Level 1 Traineeship programme and has a trial work placement at a warehouse in Conwy.
During the lockdown, she is working through a photography course which she hopes will help her future career. She is also seeking an Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award silver certificate to develop her digital, enterprise and employability skills.
She receives regular telephone calls from her training officer at North Wales Training to check that set work has been completed and she participates in a Messenger group chat with her fellow trainees.
“North Wales Training does very well to support us remotely and keep us all together, which has boosted everybody’s confidence,” said Samantha. “They also helped me to get the trial job in a warehouse.”
Businesses can discover how they can benefit from taking on an apprentice or upskilling their current workforce by registering their interest at businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/apprenticeships or by calling 03301 228 338 for more information. Individuals who are finding their way in the world of work or taking steps towards a career change can find out more at gov.wales/apprenticeships-genius-decision.