Delivering apprenticeships in a COVID-19 world

February 3, 2021

Suzanne Slater oversees the delivery of apprenticeship programmes at Gateshead College. Here, she talks about how the delivery of apprenticeships has adapted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If someone had told me last year that I’d be driving around the region dropping off laptops to apprentices who were having to self-isolate, I’d never have believed them, yet there I was a few months back doing just that.

Apprentices, just like other students in schools and colleges across the country, need to be able to continue with their studies to know that they won’t fall behind, and we are doing whatever is needed to make sure that’s the case.

Flexibility and responsiveness have always been key drivers for us. No off the shelf training here, we’ve always worked hard to customise what we do to meet every business’ needs and this flexible approach has certainly come to the fore in the last 12 months.

From day one of the initial lockdown, our staff rose to the challenge to support our apprentices and ensure there was no detrimental effect on their studies.

From creating makeshift electronic labs in spare bedrooms, to producing innovative video content to support their learning and encouraging them to keep fit and coaching apprentices and some employers in using new technology. Their commitment to providing stability and ensuring our apprentices kept learning surpassed all my expectations.

As with so many businesses, the impact of the pandemic has meant some apprentices have been furloughed by their employers. However, we were determined they wouldn’t fall behind because of this.

For many, working in industries like automotive, engineering and manufacturing, this meant pausing the practical elements of their apprenticeship and focusing purely on the knowledge elements that were delivered virtually.

When they returned to work or when college re-opened, we switched back to intensive practical sessions to keep them on track.

For some however, especially those working in frontline roles or for the NHS, we paused their apprenticeship through a ‘break in learning’, which enables them to pick up where they left off when things return to normal.

Equally, we haven’t forgotten how important the pastoral care of an apprentice is, particularly during a pandemic with repeated lockdowns.

Although our job is to teach specific competences and real workplace skills, the support we give our apprentices emotionally is just as crucial.

Which is why throughout the lockdowns our trainer assessors have undertaken regular mental health and well-being check-ins with every apprentice and some have set-up virtual coffee mornings so whole groups can talk and share their experiences with each other.

While the pandemic may have had an impact on apprenticeship recruitment nationally, we’ve still seen many employers continue with their commitment to develop their workforce through this route, bringing many new apprentices on board.

And, while their work lives and college lives are looking very different to what they would have a year ago, we’ll keep finding new ways of doing things and build on these into the future – this is critical as we look to recover our economy.

Working with high profile organisations including Atom Bank, Bellway Homes and UK Power Networks, as well as SMEs, whether that’s during a pandemic or not – our approach remains the same – flexibility and adaptability.

There are no better words I can use to sum up the last 12 months!

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