The resumption of route reviews is a wonderful opportunity for us to consider together how technical education can play a more important role than ever in supporting the nation’s economic recovery, writes Ana Osbourne

It has now been nearly six months since the Institute announced that all route reviews would be postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

I am delighted to announce that we are releasing the handbrake as of today (18 September), albeit cautiously and with a careful eye on the ongoing situation.

Employers, providers, awarding organisations, and the Institute have developed more resilient ways of doing business, so despite the future uncertainties we feel we can restart this important work and see it through to completion for the benefit of employers and learners. 

To recap, the route review process is a statutory requirement resulting from the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act way back in 2009.

The reviews play a crucial role in updating and maintaining the quality of current apprenticeships. They also take a more strategic look at how apprenticeships and T Levels are serving different employment sectors.

We speak to hundreds of employers and the process gives everyone the opportunity to reflect on what is serving the economy well or needs improving.

Our first ever route review, which was for the digital sector, launched in September 2018 and recommendations were published in May 2019.

An innovative feature to emerge from that, which I was particularly proud of as a woman keen to see gender barriers broken down wherever possible, was around the use of language.

We started off by introducing gender-neutral language checks, which identify phrases that could put women off applying, for digital apprenticeships. They have since been rolled out across all new apprenticeships.

All route reviews that were paused for lockdown will now pick up from where they left off.

This means the spotlight is about to fall again on the hair and beauty; creative and design; agriculture, environmental and animal care; and engineering and manufacturing occupational routes.

Hair and beauty had progressed furthest before the pause. We will now be hosting an event in November to announce our recommendations for improvements to the hair professional apprenticeship.

We had also arranged for a workshop to take place for the engineering and manufacturing review prior to postponement. This event, which will be run by our partner organisation, Enginuity, has been rescheduled for 8 October.

We have also rearranged workshops for the agriculture, environmental and animal care routes. These events, run by fellow partner Landex, will now take place on 2, 12, 23 and 26 October.

We would welcome as many participants as possible. If you would like to take part visit the route review section of our website where you can find more details.

Once route reviews restart we will need to keep progress under review in light of the changing situation with COVID-19. 

The purpose of the relaunch is not to send out the message that COVID-19 is behind us and everything should return to the same as it was before.

Valuable lessons have been learned and the delivery of technical education will inevitably evolve as a result.

We want to hear from businesses about their experiences during and post lockdown and the impact that COVID-19 has had on them and their apprentices, as well as understanding the range of learning incentives available to them and other stakeholders.

This feedback will be collected as part of the route reviews. The changing nature of technical education training – including recent moves towards more remote learning for example – will be reflected in our thinking.

I would also like to urge as many people as possible to take part in the second of our series of employer surveys on the impact of COVID-19 before it closes on 22 September.

Input from employers and the wider sector is always hugely appreciated. The resumption of route reviews is a wonderful opportunity for us to consider together how technical education can play a more important role than ever in supporting the nation’s economic recovery.