The last year has seen unprecedented changes to how we all do our work. As you would expect, apprenticeships have been no exception to these challenges.
Yet despite the uncertainty of the last 12 months, training provider Davidson Training has continued to make apprenticeships work – and even earned a Grade 1 (“Outstanding”) rating from OFSTED in the process.
To find out how they’ve achieved this, we caught up with Davidson Training’s managing director Lorraine Bunyard to discuss the challenges of 2020 and the opportunities of the year ahead…
In your experience, what effect has the last year had on apprenticeships?
It’s an employer’s market right now. While there are less roles, the quality of applicants is better. However, you get a lot of applicants that the apprenticeship training would benefit. But as they are not at a high standard to begin with, they lose out. That’s quite sad.
We’re trying to convince the employer to take that person on and give them that opportunity. Yet – and we tend to find this with a lot of youngsters – the employer feedback is that they’re going to interviews and saying they just want a job. And that’s naivety on their part – not realising that’s not what the employer wants to hear.
So we’re having to change tack a little. We’re now preparing them more for interviews than we did before.
Do employers have realistic expectations of apprenticeships?
If an employer is only going to spend £4.15 an hour, then they get what they pay for.
We do try to encourage employers to pay a bit more, but some do expect too much. They want to pay £4.15 an hour and they want that person to have a year’s experience. Well, that’s not going to work.
There is some education needed there. Employers and the wider public need to understand that an apprenticeship is Further Education. It’s like going on to college.
In college learners are simulating everything; they’re not in the real world. Whereas apprentices are in the real world, they’re doing it and they’re getting paid to do it. The trouble is that some learners go to college, they get a part-time job in McDonald’s or Nando’s and they get paid £8 or £9 an hour. An apprenticeship salary then doesn’t look very inviting.
What does a good apprentice employer do?
First, they allow 20% of time for off the job training. They support the training; they work with us in the delivery of the training. They take part in the review process. We work as a partnership. It’s a triangulated relationship.
I’m not going to say every single employer is like that, but that’s what we expect from them. We make it clear before we even place a vacancy for them that this is how it should work.
And we look at improving that all the time. As an example, at the moment we’re pulling together a list of FAQs for potential new employers.
How have apprentices responded to the switch to remote learning?
The new learners we’ve had come on since the move to remote learning have – in some ways – had it better. I think going from remote to face to face would be the right way round to do it because you can build that rapport first. Then you can really drill down on the training in a face-to-face meeting.
We’ve always done a certain amount of remote work anyway. We’re not the type of company that goes out there and does a visit and doesn’t go back for six weeks. Our visits are every two to four weeks, and if an apprentice sends work over to their trainer between that time then we’ll always respond.
There’s always been a rapport there. That element of it has probably made it easier.
What challenges have you encountered?
A lot of the blocks we had towards the end of the first lockdown – and beyond, because a lot of people never went back to work – were mental health issues.
So in April we put a safeguarding assessment plan into place. Now, every visit, the trainers go through this safeguarding assessment with the apprentice. They ask certain questions to get a deeper understanding of how the apprentice is feeling. When we go through these questions with them the apprentice is able to talk about the lockdown, how it’s affecting them, how they feel. It opens a dialogue and allows the trainer to better support them.
Our trainers build that relationship with their apprentices from day one. If they’ve got that relationship, and they’ve got that guidance side of it as well, then they’re made for life with that apprentice. They’ll get through their qualification.
How have you adapted your training?
There were lots of Teams meetings, lots of standardisation meetings, lots of good practice meetings. But to be honest we adapted pretty quickly.
We’d never signed anything digitally before so we implemented Adobe Sign. It’s a lot easier now and saves a lot of hassle because it’s all done online. We were in the process of changing over to a new portfolio platform, so we had to implement that more quickly. We had to streamline our resources a bit more and standardise everything to make sure – because it was all online – that access was fair to everybody.
The biggest challenge was actually getting apprentices to do Zoom meetings or Teams meetings. That was a big stumbling block for us because an apprentice may not want people seeing their home, or have nowhere private they can go. We had a few apprentices that didn’t have access to laptops, and we managed to get spares out to them.
There wasn’t anything we had to majorly adapt, but we’ve learned we will do a lot more remote learning in the future.
Have any apprenticeships been more popular since the restrictions came in?
We’ve had a massive influx of vacancies from estate agents. Because of the stamp duty relaxation, estate agents have been busy. I’d say they’re probably our biggest client base now. Apprenticeships are the better option as they can grow their own, so to speak.
We’ve increased our warehousing training, which has picked up with online sales. We’ve also had an increase in customer service roles.
Have you had any challenges delivering your standards?
The standards we’ve got at the moment we all know standing on our heads.
There were things on the cards that we can no longer do. For example, we wanted to move into Project Management, but we haven’t been able to do that because you can’t do it online. You need to be out there to get a feel for it. We used to place trainers with an employer to get a feel for the role. That gave them a better understanding of the business as a whole, which was then disseminated to the rest of the team.
You can’t do that at the moment, so you’re stuck in your areas of expertise.
What standards have been the easiest to deliver remotely?
Business Administrator is pretty straightforward. It’s just the nature of what it is. It’s still very easy to collect and collate evidence, it’s easy to run Teams meetings and spreadsheet training, and it’s easy to set research projects.
In administration you’ve got project management, organisation, finance, and budgeting; it’s quite a wide area that you can cover. There’s a big variety of work that covers a vast number of the criteria.
How do you think this period will affect training once restrictions are lifted?
You’ve got to be flexible to the employer’s needs. There’ll be some employers where we may do half in-house and half remote, and there’ll be some that want us straight back on face-to-face training.
I think there’ll be more flexibility. Ultimately, we’ll be able to deliver more effectively.
Davidson Training is an Ofsted Grade 1 training provider based in Essex. They deliver apprenticeships including Business Administration, Retail, Customer Service, and Management. We work with them as an End Point Assessment Organisation.
Visit Davidson Training for more information.