Events at the start of this year have highlighted a wide disparity in the quality of apprenticeship education. The two ends of the spectrum were summed up by contrasting news on the same day in early January that while Ofsted inspectors were describing serious shortcomings in the way some providers were failing to meet learner needs, and the resultant withdrawal of one major training provider from the sector, others were being celebrated for their outstanding work as the AAC Awards shortlist was revealed. If nothing else this illustrates the need for further work in the government’s proposed ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, to ensure that all learners receive the high standards of training they are entitled to.
Quality should be a given, and this must go hand-in-hand with a high level of support for learners. Research published by St Martins Group (2022), in partnership with the Learning and Work Institute, shows the number one reason given for non-completion of apprenticeship courses was lack of employer support, with 37% of apprentices citing this as their reason to quit. This is concerning as apprenticeship completion rates are poor. The government’s own data shows only 53% of apprentices on standards stayed on their programme until End Point Assessment (EPA) in 2020/21, meaning a disappointing 47% of learners had dropped out.
Learning providers have a responsibility to guarantee a high quality learning environment, and also an opportunity to ensure that learners feel properly supported and are fully engaged with their courses that leads to completion up to EPA. This is the only true measure for success. In partnership, providers and employers must send people out into the world of work with the skills and experience they signed up for and it can not be a postcode lottery. All providers can use technology to improve current processes for high quality delivery and to implement a rigorous programme of support for apprentices, for example:
- Provide a great learner journey, from pre-enrolment information and communication right through the programme to EPA. The more this is tailored to the real needs of learners, the more effective it can be.
- Create an engaging learning experience. Use Education Technology (EdTech) to make the learning experience more interesting and immersive, holding the learner’s attention and desire to learn more for a more effective engaging experience.
- Support staff with digital tools. These can make their working lives considerably easier, letting them focus on the reason they got into education in the first place, to teach and offer support to learners, helping them on their way to successful future lives and careers.
- Implement additional support strategies. As well as looking at what can be provided in college, such as mentors and peer group support, there are other, free-to-access support resources available for learners, such as a free apprenticeship wellbeing hub available online.
- Engage with employers. Their input into the structure and design of course content, alongside delivery in the classroom and workplace is essential to ensure that skills and knowledge are as relevant to the demands of the real world as possible. Employers must also include focus on learner wellbeing and have strategies in place to support them when they are struggling or finding elements of the apprenticeship challenging.
- Use Data. Any quality assurance exercise must start with real data to benchmark, and measure current status so that improvements are quantifiable. Digital course and organisation management solutions provide the up-to-date information that helps managers identify what is working and what needs additional investment of time, resource, or a new approach for better results. Without data, decisions can only be based on approximations of the truth.
An opportunity to shine
One of the positives for all apprenticeship providers right now is the noticeable shift in the mindset of government, employers, parents and learners. There is much more value being placed upon apprenticeships and training in practical skills as a viable alternative to university study. The UK skills shortage has really focused attention on the need to train a new workforce that has the skills, attitude, aptitude and experience to fill empty job vacancies and drive the economy forward.
It is therefore crucial that the apprenticeship sector delivers the very highest quality of training and support, to ensure decision-makers and stakeholders continue along this trajectory, prioritising practical skills for the future. This is a very exciting time for apprenticeship learning providers who are committed to improving and maintaining high standards of quality and support, to demonstrate the central role they can play in helping to train and deliver the next generation of skills for the UK workforce.
To learn more about all of the ways in which Advanced can help to enhance your apprenticeships, take a look at our Advanced Education page highlighting our Smart Assessor, bksb and PICS apprenticeship solutions.