The good, the bad, and the opportunities of work-based learning during Covid-19

Written by Julie Dyer, Head of Operations at Itec Skills & Employment

I have now worked in Welfare to Work and Worked Based Learning for over 23 years and been lucky enough to be at the development stage of so many new programmes ranging from Pathways, NDDP and most recently Kickstart, but I have to say I have found a new passion when joining Itec back in 2017 on the Worked Based Learning contracts and the continual development that has allowed us in reshaping an ever-moving delivery model within programmes such as Traineeships & Employability Skills Programme. My role is to head up operations for Traineeships, Employability Skills Programme, Jobs Growth Wales and the recent DWP Kickstart Programme. Never two days are the same I can tell you!

I live in Swansea with my partner and 21-year-old daughter who is currently studying at University, like many 2020 has taught me many things, but most importantly how important family is and my newfound love of walking. Living on the edge of the stunning Gower coastline has certainly helped during lockdown.

Towards the end of February 2020 many rumours were emerging about a national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and thankfully as an organisation we had already started to move towards a digital learning approach for several our programmes, but many of these were at the development stages. Fast forward to December 2020 and wow so much has changed, but I honestly believe even though Covid-19 has brought world-wide devastation to many, it has also brought so much opportunities in how we now deliver and how I believe this can shape the future.

If I just focus on Traineeships, we did a complete 360 change from 100% face to face classroom/ placement-based delivery model, to now an excellent blended approach that can adapted and changed within a matter of hours.

The Good

Engagement levels of our Traineeship learners increased across the board throughout the lockdown period and has continued into the blended delivery model, learners whose attendance levels were below our expectations increased significantly throughout lockdown and have continued to engage so well.

Ability to design, implement and deliver new and innovative materials to the learners using several digital systems such as Google Docs/ Hangout and Zoom and being able gain, their feedback live has had a positive effect for us.

Being able to move and carry on delivering all our support functions such as counselling throughout the lockdown periods, but interestingly session topics changed for learners to more around concerns for others/ family members and anxiety on when things will improve and get back to normal.

Our ability to continue with standardisation meetings/ caseload reviews and staff/ learner observations via zoom enabled us to progress and adapt quickly as a team to what CPD was required for the future.

Communication between Tutors/ Lead Workers/ Counsellors and Learners continued and we able to support every one of our learner’s progress/ development and see results in their qualifications and more importantly help them focus on their health & wellbeing.

The Bad

Technology was certainly a challenge, even though as an organisation we were able to loan out quite a number of chromebooks, learners faced a number of challenges from having no internet at home, siblings having to share laptops and connection within some of the rural areas our learners live. Work Based Learning was certainly at a disadvantage to HE/FE who were able to access additional funding for technology and internet packages for learners.

External support services hit crisis point during the pandemic and we found it hard to access services such as Housing/ Drugs and Mental Health organisations, many closed due to lack of funding and not being able to offer all the normal services on offer.

The Opportunities

Our ability to drive the digital agenda not only with learners but our teams has certainly had a positive impact on our organisation, many staff would also admit before the pandemic their preference would have been the chalk/board approach and now they are wizards in Google Hangouts.

This one is very close to our hearts, having the ability to say YES to all Traineeship referrals, previously a number of learners had restrictions in terms of where they were able to go, such as not being able to go within the centre of Cardiff, this changed the moment we were able to offer a full digital learning approach, working closely with Probation and Careers Wales has allowed us to engage, start and offer a full Traineeship experience. I really do hope that this forms part of the New Jobs Growth Wales Plus offer.

In all my years of leadership I have never been so proud of the passion, resilience, and dedication our teams have shown throughout 2020/2021 and I am excited to see what challenges and opportunities the future will bring.