If businesses in the hardest-hit sectors are to thrive post-lockdown, new skills and new ways of working will be essential, writes Stuart Shield

For apprenticeship training providers and colleges up and down the country, the past month has seen a rapid shift to digital delivery. And, for many, it’s proving a great success.

At Catch22, we’ve been delivering our property-management apprenticeships almost entirely via Microsoft Teams. Not only has this meant quality training can continue, but we’re actually signing up brand new learners. 

Some apprentices who are being upskilled have been furloughed by their current employers and are therefore able to spend more time focusing on their apprenticeships.

We’ve changed the frequency of our learning sessions – from one-a-month face-to-face sessions, to (on average) an hour’s session every two to three days. Some are one-to-one, others are group sessions. Our apprentices are visibly more engaged, enthusiastic and are performing better. 

We’ve also seen greater engagement from employers (in particular, senior managers) who are more easily able to observe apprenticeship training and assessment sessions now that they’re being done digitally. Previously we had struggled with some senior leaders, who couldn’t see the value of apprentices. Now, though, with greater exposure, they are recognising the benefit and are investing more in the scheme. 

Such is the success, our plan is to include digital delivery in our future apprenticeship training programmes so that we have a mixed model of delivery. 

Adapting to business needs

We use a partnership model working with employers, aimed at delivering bespoke training designed to provide mutually tangible benefits. For example, we have developed supplementary bespoke modules with some of our partners to meet the needs of the current climate – including a module on handling angry, difficult customers, and effectively managing expectations. 

If there’s any certainty during what is otherwise a period of huge uncertainty, it’s that businesses and their operational functions will need to change. New practices and procedures (whether that’s moving to increased digital delivery, or adapting to staff shortages) are being implemented everywhere. As a result, we’re seeing growing skills gaps, people shortages and therefore more development opportunities.

Brexit and Covid: the double blow to hospitality, tourism and property

Industries such as hospitality and housing and property have suffered a double blow in recent times – first, the implications of Brexit, and now, the pandemic. Travel and tourism are suffering in the current lockdown, with no obvious endpoint in sight and a huge reluctance from anyone to plan future travel. 

As for retail – while some businesses, such as supermarkets, food stores and online retailers, will be doing well and actively recruiting, high-street stores are in crisis. The move to solely online trading has been the approach of some, while others are preparing for re-opening, albeit with increased hygiene and social distancing measures in place. All this requires staff – whether new or existing – to have different skills. 

So if businesses in these hard-hit sectors are to survive, then thrive, once lockdown measures start to be lifted, they will need to adapt rapidly.

Why apprentices hold the key  

Forward-thinking businesses are looking at how they build capacity back into the organisations by reskilling or upskilling existing staff. This, as well as bringing in new staff with relevant skills, is going to be essential. This messaging is something that training providers can promote to businesses – particularly those that have apprenticeship levy to spend and are looking to how they adapt in the post-Covid-19 world.

Bringing in new apprentices who are adaptable can help boost capacity and add fresh energy to companies. Apprenticeships are developed in-house and allow businesses to both retain (through upskilling or reskilling existing staff) or bringing in new talent, without the time and expense of going through a lengthy recruitment process. 

Apprentices are a valuable investment for any organisation. And we know from the businesses that we work with, and provide apprenticeships for, in times of difficulty it is often the apprentices who prove among the most valuable staff, delivering the frontline services that help keep businesses afloat.

If businesses can retain and develop the apprentices into the managers of the future, then even as businesses go through natural attrition and staff churn, they can be confident that they have the key skills within the organisation to survive even the most brutal of societal shocks.