Training support for South East Wales learners during lockdown
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.”
One of the training providers fully embracing the digital delivery of learning is Cardiff-based ALS Training, which has 1,200 learners working towards Apprenticeships from Levels 2 to 5 in production management, human resources, insurance and financial services, business administration and health and social care.
The company is using Microsoft Teams to deliver learning and to communicate with staff members who are working from home.
“What we have found most positive during the lockdown is that learners, employers and staff are embracing digital learning,” said company director Sarah John. “It’s good news in terms of blended learning but there will be an awful lot more that we can do online.
“Everyone in the work-based learning network was already working towards digital solutions but the lockdown has accelerated that process and now it’s a matter of adapting and evolving to different circumstances.
“Training providers are not just delivering learning in the workplace; they are also a support mechanism for learners, employers and the Welsh economy.”
One of the employers the company is working with is Cardiff-based managed IT provider Steer IT Solutions, which has two IT and business administration apprentices amongst its 12 employees.
During lockdown, ALS Training has arranged digital meetings with both apprentices via Microsoft Teams and updated director Emily Steer on their progress.
“For our company, it’s very important that the momentum of their training continues during the lockdown,” said Emily, who praised ALS Training for its support. “In every other aspect of our company, it’s been business as usual and we want it to be the same with learning development.
“We have Zoom meetings every morning and afternoon to check on the welfare of staff and we still hold training sessions for teams.”
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.