Welsh learners overcome lockdown barriers with training support
Apprentices and trainees across Wales have been able to progress with their learning programmes during the Covid-19 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.
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.”
The new ways of working have benefited not only learners but also the training providers themselves who have upgraded and developed new skills.
“Over the last few years, the network’s providers have invested heavily in digital technology and e-portfolios and, when the crisis arose, very quickly ramped up remote working activities, explained Mr Nash.
“Learning is continuing and we are working hard to support learners through a difficult time. The new working practices that we have adopted to engage remotely are probably going to stay with us. There will still be face to face meetings and assessments, but a lot of the working practices are here to stay.
TSW Training, which has 40 staff and 650 apprentices, delivers apprenticeships in health and social care, engineering, childcare, management, customer service and business administration.
The company’s training officers use digital technology including Microsoft Teams, Smart Assessor e-portfolio and a number of other online learning resources to support apprentices. Professional discussions are recorded via Microsoft Teams and online webinars have replaced workshops for knowledge elements during lockdown.
“Staff have adapted very well to online learning and shown great flexibility to learners and employers,” added Mr Nash. “Most management and customer service apprentices are working from home and their managers see this as an opportunity to give them a good head start on the knowledge elements of their apprenticeships.
“It will also minimise the impact on the business with the amount of time they will need to be released from the workplace.”
One of the company’s apprentices, Jill Davies, 60, from Mountain Ash, works for Rhondda Cynon Taff Borough Council as a community engagement worker. She has been redeployed during the lockdown to work from home to engage with and support elderly and vulnerable members of the community, including collecting shopping and prescriptions for them.
Supported remotely by TSW Training’s Lindsay Sandall, Jill is working towards a Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4) in Advice and Guidance and is making good progress. Regular contact is made by telephone and emails and work is uploaded to the Smart Assessor e-portfolio software for assessment.
“Lindsay is marvellous as she is always at the end of the phone and is really good at explaining things if I am unsure about something,” said Jill. “I was offered the opportunity to do the Higher Apprenticeship through work and, even though I am 60, I think both the council and I will benefit from what I am 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.