APPRENTICES and trainees across Wales have been able to crack on 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 crack on with their apprenticeships and traineeships.”

Ken Skates

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.

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“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 which has adapted quickly to the lockdown is Swansea-based Inspire Training. The company employs 21 staff delivering Traineeship Engagement and Level 1 programmes to 150 learners, many of whom have barriers to learning.

Staff are working remotely and remaining in daily contact with learners either as a group or individually by telephone or video calls. Homework packs have been developed for each of the learners to ensure that their progression is not interrupted by lockdown.

Units for the learning programmes have been adapted to allow tutors to teach online with set weekly tasks, which are evidenced. A range of online resources are used to support the learners remotely.

Wi-Fi devices have been provided and laptops loaned to learners to allow them to use the Internet and work remotely. Inspire also offers several learning methods to cater for all abilities and interests.

“Staff are still working to develop resources whilst ensuring all learners are on track, but also safe and well in these difficult times,” said managing director Gavin Earley. “We are keeping in regular contact with learners who we feel may be vulnerable.

“Learners are still engaged, completing tasks and learning and working towards qualification units, and I believe they appreciate staff efforts to ensure their progression keeps moving forward.

“Their mental wellbeing is important to us. Tutors and staff are taking phone calls in the evenings and weekends knowing that they are important to learners. The rapport that we have developed with learners is definitely paying dividends.

“The wider community is positively affected as we’re keeping these young people engaged. I honestly believe our contribution is huge for these young people, their families and friends. Even more so for those learners living independently or suffering from depression or anxiety.”

Katlin Rees

One of the company’s learners is 17-year-old Katlin Rees from Morriston, who is managing to complete all the work set by Inspire Training while volunteering on the general wards at Morriston Hospital.

Working towards a Traineeship Level One in Sports, Katlin hopes to progress her learning and attend university with the ultimate ambition of becoming a paramedic.

She praised Inspire Training for its support during the lockdown, with staff keeping in regular contact to check their welfare and work progress. She has been taking part in Zoom and Facetime meetings with the company and her fellow trainees.

“Lockdown has been a challenge not being able to see my friends and some family members, but the regular contact with Inspire and my course mates has been really good,” she said.

“Inspire was recommended to me by a friend when I left school with hardly any qualifications. School education wasn’t for me, but I have enjoyed doing the Traineeship and wouldn’t be where I am today without Inspire.”

Businesses can discover how they can benefit from taking on an apprentice or upskilling their current workforce by registering their interest at https://businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/apprenticeships or by calling 03301 228 338 for more information.

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