On April 22nd 2021, we hosted our second Find a Training Provider virtual seminar for our community of apprenticeship employers. The focus of this session was on Digital Apprenticeships. We discussed how to find a quality training provider for digital apprenticeship programmes and how to work with a provider to ensure that training of the highest quality is consistently delivered for digital apprentices.

I was joined by a marvellous guest speaker - Michelle Winfield, Commercial Account Executive at Multiverse - who shared some really useful and detailed insights into how an employer can find and work with a training provider for their digital apprenticeships and what best practice looks like.

If you missed the session, here’s a summary of the key insights…

What should an employer’s first step be in identifying a digital skills gap in their organisation before matching this to the right apprenticeship standard for their apprenticeship programmes? 

The first thing to do would be to run a ‘Skills Audit’. Look at:

- What are our department learning goals?

- What are our corporate objectives?

- What are we trying to achieve?

- What do we have now? What do we need in order to get where we want to be? And how does that link to our strategic goals?

With HSBC, Multiverse delivered a Skills Audit and skills gap survey to 100,000 of the company’s employees to see how many had the data skills that they needed. 80% of those surveyed did not have the data skills required. 

Data skills are something every organisation needs. There are an estimated 133 million roles which may emerge globally by 2022 as a result of the new division between labour, humans, machines and algorithms. Within the next 10-20 years, 90% of jobs will require digital skills, so it’s not difficult to see the ever-growing gap between in-demand skills for the future and the abilities of current workforces. 

Once you’ve identified that you have a digital or data skills gap, the next step is to focus on the specific skills you need. Is it cleansing data? Is it visualising data? Or is it more advanced, such as data engineering or machine learning. Then it’s important to consider the level of apprenticeship.

What are the most important indicators of quality when it comes to choosing a training provider for your digital apprenticeships?

Start with the content. Apprenticeship standards can be very theoretical and academic, so look at how engaging and interactive the content of the training is. How focused is it on contextualised, applied learning?

Consider the coaches. Who is going to be responsible for delivering the content? What is their role beyond delivering that theory? Are they also following up with one-to-one support to make sure the learning is personalised and contextualised? Do they also provide career guidance and pastoral support to learners?

It’s also critical that a training provider helps the employer to look at ‘role fit’ and make sure the learner is going to have the opportunity to apply the skills they learn in their day-to-day role.

It’s incredibly important for an employer to consider the pastoral support a training provider can offer alongside the actual learning experience too. An apprentice needs a support network and their coach is an integral part of that. 

Really, a training provider should aim to provide one single coach for an apprentice throughout the duration of their apprenticeship, so they can be a person that the apprentice can turn to for support, as well as their line manager.

What other factors are important when considering a training provider for your digital apprenticeships? 

It’s important to work with businesses who are mission aligned and share the same vision of wanting to drive diversity and empower people within the organisation by delivering the skills that they need to be valuable, relevant and successful. 

Other than that, consider the size of the organisation. What is the capacity of the coaches and what is the coach-to-participant ratio? Are the coaches going to have the time to take the learner through their learning journey while providing that guidance and pastoral support. 

Also, look at the clients a training provider is working with and consider what that says about their reputation. 

What are the common problems an employer might encounter with a training provider? 

Some training providers are simply going through the motions, or are too rigid in their approach to the teaching they offer. This can often be the case with universities for degree apprenticeships, as some universities may use their traditional methods of teaching, but simply use the apprenticeship levy to do it. 

The providers that have got their heads around the additional pieces required to train an apprentice, are the ones that an employer will want to work with. When you have meetings with providers to talk about what you need as an employer, their approach will tell you everything you need to know. Too much rigidity in the delivery timetable, for example, is something to look out for. 

A training provider needs to recognise that you are a business and have commercial objectives you need to deliver on. They should be saying: “We’ll work with you, we’ll do our best; we can’t do X, we can’t do Y, but we can A, B and C.” 

It is challenging, especially if you need to use more than one provider and you’re operating in a multi-vendor environment. There is no real scorecard or procurement exercise you can launch into for vetting different providers.

What steps can you take to streamline the decision making process?

Hiring somebody to specifically look after the vendor evaluation process, either internally or by using a third party organisation, could save you a lot of time. They can then look after the procurement process, but they can also build relationships with existing providers and hold them to account.

They can even support the existing providers that aren’t performing well to find new solutions, identify best practice elsewhere and make recommendations to help them improve their approach and deliver a better overall quality of training.

Once you’ve begun your relationship with a training provider, how can you ensure everything starts smoothly for your first cohort of apprentices? What can the employer do? What can the training provider do? 

You need to be really clear about expectations, roles and the commitment from both parties. It’s important that the training provider is aligned with the employer’s strategic goals. The employer also needs to create the opportunities for the learners to apply their skills and understand what the 20% off-the-job training means. 

The most successful programmes will have an executive sponsor within the employer’s business, so that the apprenticeship is taken seriously, is understood by the wider organisation and given prominence internally as well. 

An executive sponsor should be a champion for apprentices and should understand the value that an apprenticeship is going to deliver to the organisation. 

Hiring somebody to specifically look after the vendor evaluation process, either internally or by using a third party organisation, could save you a lot of time. They can then look after the procurement process, but they can also build relationships with existing providers and hold them to account.

What else should a training provider be expected to do to help onboard an employer’s apprentices?

Multiverse starts all apprentices off with a ‘flying start’ programme. It’s a day where the apprentice can meet their coach and also meet everybody else who is in the cohort. It’s an opportunity to set expectations from day one and give them the training delivery plan, so they have visibility of what the apprenticeship is going to look like for the duration of the programme. They also do group exercises, speed networking and spend time getting into the flow of things. 

Multiverse also runs a line manager onboarding session. Line manager engagement is a critical factor to an individual apprentice’s success, so it’s important that the apprentice and their line manager are equally excited and engaged. 

How regularly should an employer and a training provider be in contact with each other moving forward?

A huge focus should be on ROI. What is the return on investment? What are we achieving and how are we tracking success? Multiverse holds quarterly business reviews with the dedicated customer success team and the client to make sure they are delivering against the expectations that were set out at the beginning of the contract. 

Also, the line manager and apprentice will have monthly progress reviews with the training provider to set objectives and make sure the training being delivered is enabling the apprentice to stay on track and perform in their role. It’s vital to make sure that regular contact is maintained.

What does success look like for an employer and what metrics do they use to measure this?

A good training provider is one that is regularly in touch and provides consistent support to the apprentice. They will also keep the line manager informed about what is going on. They also need to make sure the apprentices are passing their exams, they are providing proper support and ensuring the learners have access to all the learning tools they need. Good training providers will also provide line manager training and mentor training, as well as delivering the induction for the apprentices. 

A good indicator of success is also the performance of the individual apprentices in their day-to-day job. You want to be able to see that the apprentice is progressing quickly. Applying metrics that relate specifically to the outcomes of the job that the apprentice is doing is one of the better ways of evaluating the success of the employer-provider relationship. 

Measuring success also starts with the driver for the programme. What value is the employer seeking from an apprenticeship programme? Is it diversity? Is it closing those skills gaps? Is it to help fulfil a strategic business need? 

If an employer is looking to use an apprenticeship programme as a way to hire from a diverse talent pool. How can an apprenticeship training provider facilitate this? 

Multiverse has two strategies, which are split between marketing and outreach. Their outreach team goes into schools and delivers workshops. They have spoken to more than 25,000 young people, parents, carers and teachers. The aim is to change the perception of apprenticeships, reach those under-represented communities through mission-aligned partnerships and empower them.

Through this activity, Multiverse has developed a talent pool, 50% of whom are female and 57% of whom are from those underrepresented-communities. 36% of Multiverse’s apprentices come from the three most deprived postcodes in the UK and a third have a positive contextual flag, which indicates a previous barrier to learning. For example, they might be a refugee, be a care leaver or were eligible for free school meals. 

A training provider can’t help employers to hire people from very specific backgrounds, based on gender or race, because they are protected characteristics, but you can work with partners that focus on specific missions, such as charities that focus on refugee cohorts or veterans charities. 

To reserve your spot and find out more about our next virtual seminar, check out our Apprenticeship Employer Community page