Training providers help Welsh 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.
The fortunes of learners have been uppermost in the minds of training providers who have shown agility in adapting their learning delivery methods so that they 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.”
Arwyn Watkins, OBE, Cambrian Training’s managing director, believes the lockdown has the potential to be transformational for the business, which has offices in Welshpool, Llanelli, Builth Wells, Holyhead and Colwyn Bay.
“The pandemic is making the company re-evaluate the way we do business, engage with learners and colleagues and how we utilise our IT resources to reduce our environmental impact,” he said.
“Going forward, there is no point in asking people to travel from all over Wales to every team meeting when it can be held remotely. We are going to learn a lot from the Coronavirus crisis about ourselves and the hidden talents we have within the business.”
One of the company’s apprentices, Graham Jones, 36, from Llandrindod Wells, who is being shielded for 12 weeks because of a respiratory condition, is using the lockdown to race ahead with an Apprenticeship in Sustainable Recycling Activities, which he has 84% completed in a matter of nine weeks.
His training officer Jay Syrett-Judd is supporting Graham to use the City & Guilds’ Learning Assistant e-portfolio system and Google Hangouts communications software to speak face to face. This enables Jay to provide support and review evidence for Graham’s apprenticeship portfolio.
A driver and loader for Powys County Council’s waste and recycling team based in Rhayader, Graham completed his Foundation Apprenticeship (Level 2) seven months early, on February 26 and began the Apprenticeship on March 3
“When I was told I was going to be in lockdown and couldn’t go to work, I contacted Jay and asked him to send me the work that I needed to do for the Level 3,” explained Graham.
“He directed me to Learning Assistant and I follow all the coursework on there. If I have a query, I ring Jay or speak to him on Google Hangouts and he talks me through it.
“I am not very computer-literate, but Learning Assistant is absolutely brilliant and easy to follow. Because I am a frontline worker, I am not office based and normally I don’t have that much time on my hands. Being in lockdown allows me to log on every morning to do coursework and Jay assesses it.”
He is not scheduled to complete the qualification until September next but expects to finish it soon after the lockdown period ends and would like to progress to a Higher Apprenticeship, if allowed by his employer, to improve his promotion prospects.”
Jay said he speaks daily with Graham who had completed the technical certificate element of the Apprenticeship and was now working on the diploma element.
“Graham always goes beyond the minimum required and does his own research when completing work,” he added. “He is a learner who is really benefiting from what he is learning.”
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.