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Learning and training providers across Scotland have adapted to COVID-19 restrictions to ensure apprentices continue to learn and achieve qualifications.

Organisations that have been able to continue to deliver services throughout the pandemic have quickly introduced new and innovative ways of working to keep apprentices learning across a range of sectors.

Activity has included virtual graduations, well-being webinars, online assessments and inductions.

New strategies

QTrain has been using a range of electronic methods to continue to deliver services and support apprentices where possible; providing Google Chrome books or iPads for candidates who did not have access to a computer.

In the early stages of the initial pandemic the company put a Coronavirus strategy in place and prioritised and accelerated changes, which enabled it to continue to provide the same quality of services remotely. Procedures, documentation and training methods were adapted. Along with its current e-portfolio system, additional methods were introduced such as electronic signature technology, video conferencing and shared electronic documents for collaboration. All of these methods allowed QTrain to collaborate together with apprentices and employers for involvement of a three-way evaluation.

“Although this time has been challenging for many, it has actually brought our team, apprentices and employers closer together and allowed us more opportunities for collaboration and progression.”

Lesley Blues, Training Manager, QTrain

With COVID-19 challenges still prevailing, the provider is now introducing a new video tagging software which allows assessors, apprentices and employers to visualise and reflect on their own performance, which is a fundamental principle of the SVQ qualification in childcare.

Training Manager for QTrain, Lesley Blues said: “As a team at QTrain, we are passionate about supporting apprentices’ career progression and we were not going to let the challenges of COVID-19 prevent their learning opportunities. Instead, we wanted to enable them to continue their route to success.

“Although this time has been challenging for many, it has actually brought our team, apprentices and employers closer together and allowed us more opportunities for collaboration and progression.”

Supporting key workers

Like QTrain, many learning and training providers have supported key workers who were providing vital roles throughout the pandemic.

Coralshore, which also develops apprentices in the childcare sector, used SQA’s adapted guidelines to allow assessors to continue to observe apprentices electronically.

Evidence-related flexibilities, introduced by Skills Development Scotland, enabled the provider to induct new apprentices and continue progress reviews electronically. Nurseries who operated during lockdown were able to scan and send evidence.

Jill Stewart of Coralshore, explained how the company’s existing and new approaches supported both staff and apprentices. She said: “We are online for most of our training and we started using Microsoft Teams. This has allowed us, as a team, to keep in contact, upload documents, newsletters and other materials to a main platform that we can all access, to ensure we are all using the most up to date assessments. We have also started doing our video calls with candidates on that platform.”

Virtual events

In addition to developing their online solutions for assessment and meetings, Training Matters held numerous support webinars with apprentices during lockdown.

With a focus on promoting wellbeing and, more recently, preparing to return to the workplace, the webinar sessions have ensured apprentices were supported throughout this period.

Training Matters also hosted a virtual graduation ceremony during lockdown for the successful apprentices on the Apprenticeship in Hospitality Scotland programme, which was attended by skills minister, Jamie Hepburn MSP.

MI Technologies has used e-mail, phone and Zoom to maintain regular contact with its Modern Apprentices and employers and has also used the adapted guidelines offered by SQA to carry out virtual observations.

The business says it has had very positive feedback from Modern Apprentices and employers who are pleased that it is finding innovative ways to continue to support their development through this difficult period.

Online innovation

Accountancy and Financial Services learning provider, Kaplan Financial has made a number of adaptations throughout COVID-19, including the creation of its own online platform.

Carla Watson of Kaplan Financial explained: “Our classroom tuition has been converted to live online tuition. We have migrated to Zoom to allow online sessions to be more interactive and materials have been sent to home addresses to support the first day in class.

“We’ve also developed a microsite for learners to help with their studies and wellbeing.”

BESA Academy, a Building Engineering Services apprenticeships training provider, has worked with its partner colleges to move all lessons online.

Since the lockdown, the company has created online forums for apprentices and employers and is currently leading on behalf of the Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum, developing an app in partnership with the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre to promote health and safety to apprentices when they return to College, Construction Site and Domestic Dwelling.

“We researched the technology available and utilised the skills the team possess. Our learners continue to be well supported to achieve their awards, which has kept us all very motivated during this difficult time.”

Alison White, Competence Based Training

Within the Third Sector, Barnardo’s has had to quickly adapt to ensure the young people they are working with had the right support during lockdown and continue with their learning.

To ensure all candidates had access to online and digital support, Barnardo’s provided them with a Tablet and SIM and used digital platforms such as Zoom to stay in touch with candidates. This helped the candidates stay connected with Barnardo’s and stay motivated and focused on their on-going learning.

In addition, the organisation found alternative ways to stay engaged with apprentices who were facing personal difficulties with COVID -19 by joining them for socially distanced walks with a member of the Barnardo’s network of workers. This has given the young person the chance to talk to a familiar face and help them access the support needed at that time.

Long term solutions

Innovations and solutions that have been put in place to respond to COVID-19 restrictions have also enabled providers to learn from the experience and shape how they plan to deliver services in the longer term.

Ambition Centre For Training has kept salon apprentices engaged online with bespoke training modules accessed via a personal link to a secure portal in the Ambition website and has provided access to external training webinars from celebrity hairdressers and products manufacturers.

At the same time, the provider has been showcasing its own work on the Ambition Centre For Training social platforms, keeping everyone focused on achieving their qualifications whilst encouraging apprentices to actively be creative throughout lockdown and to continue sharing their hair work now that working operations have resumed.

Alison White from Competence Based Training, which supports apprentices in the care sector, said: “CBT found the restrictions from the pandemic very challenging. We responded very quickly from the onset, recognising the changes we would have to make to enable us to continue. The team rose to the challenge, adapting well to our new delivery format.

“We researched the technology available and utilised the skills the team possess. Our learners continue to be well supported to achieve their awards, which has kept us all very motivated during this difficult time.”

Like many others, West College Scotland is offering online tutorials for apprentices, using platforms such as MS Teams, Google Classroom and E Portfolio (Learning Assistant). It has developed ‘how to’ guides and bite size chunks of learning; including video content and animations.

Dumfries and Galloway College has also been using online technology to continue to promote apprenticeships. The college held a virtual open week which provided a summary of apprenticeships and opportunities and produced podcasts to aid with recruitment and outlining the role of assessors in some frameworks.

“Working closely with Forth Valley College, we have ensured that ECITB Oil and Gas Technical Apprentices have kept up their training during lockdown and also remained engaged with their employers.

Vince Dutch, account manager for the ECITB

Sharing best practice

Others are also due to learn from the adaptations Forth Valley College has put in place, with the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) due to publish a piece on the work the college has done with the Board’s apprentices.

Caroline Hogg, Client Manager from Forth Valley College said: “With the college closing on 17 March, the ECITB apprentices faced missing the last nine weeks of their course. To address this potential shortfall in their learning, the college quickly put plans in place to provide tutored online classes via Microsoft Teams for all remaining knowledge elements of the curriculum.

“In addition, post May 2020, when the apprentices where officially due to have left college, the college volunteered to provide additional training support and resource material to apprentices who were unable to mobilise offshore or to site due to the lockdown.”

Specifically, during June and July, the college delivered online tutored learning courses in IOSH Working Safely; Hazardous Area Awareness and Electricity at Work Regulations. In addition, during the month of July, apprentices were able to access to the college’s suite of e-learning courses.

Vince Dutch, account manager for the ECITB, said: “Working closely with Forth Valley College, we have ensured that ECITB Oil and Gas Technical Apprentices have kept up their training during lockdown and also remained engaged with their employers.

“Keeping young learners on programme is crucial to ensure we have a pipeline of new talent to help industry rebound from the pandemic. I know the support provided to this intake has been greatly appreciated by the four employer companies; Altrad, PBS, Petrofac and Wood.”

Taking on the challenge

Skills Development Scotland’s Director of National Training Programmes, Katie Hutton said: “Restrictions from the pandemic had an immediate impact on many providers’ ability to carry out learning and assessment.

“Whilst SDS and others introduced more flexible measures for delivery, many innovative solutions have been put in place by training providers across the country to respond to the challenge.

“The priority for SDS is to support and protect training provision in Scotland and we will continue to work closely with providers to understand how we can continue to enable them to deliver the highest quality of service for employers and apprentices.”

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