THE Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is calling for a more ‘blended’ approach to delivering apprentice training in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
The organisation said it welcomed plans announced by UK chancellor Rushi Sunak in his summer statement that included subsidies for employers taking on apprentices, but said delivering the required quality of training presented a ‘series of challenges’ as a result of the pandemic.
BESA praised the government’s new £2 billion worth of measures aimed at improving job prospects for young adults. Before the Chancellor’s announcement, Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell told a webinar hosted by the association that a whole generation of young people was in danger of being adversely affected.
“There has been a big drop in numbers taken on (during the pandemic),” she said. “If we are really going to build out way out of this crisis…that will need to be underpinned by skills.”
BESA chief executive David Frise said 50% of apprentices in the sector were still furloughed. He suggested one way of making it easier to deliver technical apprenticeship courses, such as those in building engineering, was to develop a more blended model, which would involve a mix of remote working using digital delivery systems alongside the traditional classroom and on site experience. This will be a feature of the new BESA Academy, which launches next month and will be providing online courses.
“A lot of colleges are reluctant to provide engineering apprenticeships because they are more expensive and complex than other types of training,” he said. “Delivering more of the course content remotely will make it more attractive to them and easier to access for prospective students.”
However, BESA said it would be essential to make sure all apprentices had access to adequate equipment and IT support.
Helen Yeulet, director of BESA Training added, “The lockdown period was an excellent testing ground for the new remote teaching model. In theory, it should have been the perfect time for apprentices to catch up on course work and planning, but in practice it was not quite so easy.”
She said a survey revealed worrying levels of ‘IT poverty’, with some apprentices in danger of falling behind their peers and of missing out on exercises and materials due to limited access to computer hardware and IT support. The variable quality of rural broadband was also highlighted.
The survey found considerable differences between regions: Almost 20% of apprentices in Wales and 10% in Scotland did not have the use of their own laptop or iPad compared with a much smaller proportion in England.
Almost half of all Scottish apprentices and more than a third of their Welsh counterparts also had to share a laptop with other household members, while this was only true of around 20% of those based in England. Access to printing facilities was similarly restricted.