TTS apprentices have moved to online learning during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Under normal circumstances, TTS provides training for around 200 employed apprentices. Training is a combination of tutor training at TTS’s purpose-built, modern facility at Nutts Corner Business Park and ‘on-the-job’ training in the workplace. With the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent ‘lockdown’, the TTS training facility was closed, and many apprentices were furloughed by their employers.
Within just two weeks, TTS had moved to online training platforms, including Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, as well as the Electude online learning platform that TTS apprentices were already familiar with. Much of the training has been supported by each technical trainer carrying out live theory-based learning using interactive presentations and discussion. These new learning methods had to be approved by Department for Economy (DfE) and the accreditation body, the Institute for the Motor Industry (IMI). DfE has taken a keen interest in the systems TTS is now using for continued delivery.
Apprenticeship qualifications at TTS are awarded by the IMI and apprentices work towards a progress percentage against their IMI e-portfolio. Using the online learning in conjunction with their normal ‘write-ups’, and to the credit of the dedication of the apprentices and their trainers, most apprentices have been able to progress at a rate almost on par with normal circumstances.
The main challenge in progressing has been on the employer side of things. Around 80-85% of TTS apprentices were put on furlough, with the exception of some of the heavy vehicle employers that worked through lockdown to service/repair vehicles delivering food for example. Apprentices not on furlough have been able to further boost their portfolio percentage by submitting work-based evidence. TTS trainers have been unable to visit apprentices in the workplace to carry out work-based observations.
TTS’s Training Director, Stephen Wilkinson, is pleased with feedback from apprentices:
“The adaption to home-based learning has broadly been received well by apprentices, who have been accepting of the government-imposed restrictions. Responses to our surveys and ongoing communications show that our apprentices would much prefer face-to-face training but are mostly satisfied or very satisfied with the online training to date. Plus, we have been open to adapting our methods as we’ve learnt what works best and what our apprentices prefer. For example, we added the use of zoom for virtual classes following initial feedback once we got protocols in place to protect the learners. However, apprenticeships generally appeal to those that prefer to learn ‘hands-on’, so it is no surprise that our apprentices and trainers alike are keen to get back to practical learning methods as soon as possible”.
TTS’s goal throughout has been to keep existing apprentices engaged and on track to graduate when they are due to, something that has so far been successful. With the exception of one apprentice, who decided on a change of career path, all TTS apprentices remain engaged in their development programme, evidenced by their e-portfolio scores. Although some apprentices are starting back to work, others are, unfortunately still under threat with some having been informed by employers that they are on 90 days’ notice at risk of redundancy. TTS is confident that employers will see the value in keeping apprentices employed though, given the inexpensiveness of apprentices relative to their productivity. The IMI carried out an extensive study which showed apprentices typically generate a return on investment of between 150% and 300% and typically generate profit within 18-24 months.
As well as ongoing training, TTS’s Careers Development Officer, Robert Deignan, has continued his pastoral check-ins with each apprentice. As well as recruiting apprentices, Robert’s role involves ensuring that all apprentices are developing well and integrating successfully into his/her workplace, and to provide regular feedback on progress
Robert had this to say: “In the forefront of our minds there was the issue of isolation and how this could impact on one of our most vulnerable groups of our society – our young people! I’ve endeavoured to keep connected with apprentices, outside of their daily contact with trainers, to safeguard their mental well-being too. Although it’s difficult to know what individuals have going on at home, I’ve been working with young people for over 20 years so I’d like to think I would pick up on the signs if any of our apprentices were distressed”.
Indeed, at least two TTS apprentices have been supplementing their development by volunteering to help those most vulnerable in our communities. One is volunteering at his local grocery store in Cullybackey, preparing grocery orders for those that are isolating. The other is helping to prepare orders at an arable farm in Comber.
DfE have now announced that apprentices can be brought into TTS for assessments which cannot be done remotely, for example, practical tasks in workshops and PC-based end-of-unit tests. TTS is now completing robust risk assessments to satisfy DfE that safe arrangements are in place and deep-cleaning is underway. Although TTS already operates with maximum class sizes of ten (and an average of eight) to facilitate learning (compared with 16 in the Training for Success scheme), it is thought that social ‘bubbles’ of four in the classroom and four in the workshop, may be the way forward. The priority will be apprentices due to complete Level 3 and qualify at the end of August 2020 and those due to complete Level 2 and progress to Level 3 in September 2020.