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Creating Great Learning Experiences for Apprentices

Group of Latin American engineering students in a class wearing facemasks to avoid the spread of coronavirus

Apprenticeships have long been recognised as a key stepping stone for young people moving from school into work. The structured pathways they offer, combining studying with working and earning and leading to a skilled job, are an essential feature of the employability ecosystem.

As we face a deepening skills gap and growing unemployment among young people, apprenticeships offer a model fit to solve these challenges, bringing businesses and educators together to ensure young people are being prepared to thrive in the jobs of the future. What’s more, evidence gathered during the last recession suggests that in countries with well-developed apprenticeship systems, such as Germany, Austria and Switzerland, young people were shielded from the worst of the economic downturn.

However, for apprenticeships to be effective, there is an important balance to strike. Managing working and studying while still being able to socialise can prove challenging. For apprentices to be able to get the most out of their apprenticeship, the learning experience needs to be carefully crafted to give them the flexibility, confidence, guidance, autonomy and support they need.

Here, we explore some of the key aspects that should be considered when creating learning experiences for apprentices.

Onboarding that instils confidence

Getting off to a good start when picking up a new course and a new platform is essential for giving learners confidence. So it follows that ensuring a smooth onboarding process for a new apprentice is key to providing a great learning experience. From a technology perspective, the onboarding experience should be intuitive and easy to follow, with simple uploading of evidence and documents to complete compliance checks. To more broadly introduce the learner to the programme a combination of instructional videos, access to detailed frequently asked questions, and time to troubleshoot or ask tutors questions via a live video chat, help to support the learner through these early days.

Accessibility integrated into every aspect

One of the benefits of using digital systems to support learning is that they make it straightforward to ensure greater levels of inclusivity. Apprenticeships should be equally accessible to all learners. Accessibility should be designed into the tools, platforms and processes used to facilitate apprenticeships, rather than added as an afterthought. This means ensuring that the platforms and digital tools you are using are compatible with screen readers, for example, or that the screen contrast can be adjusted. Information should be imparted in a variety of ways, including written and audio-visual materials.

Accessing a system that has already taken their needs into account will boost the confidence of learners with different needs. Having to ask for additional support can be difficult and can leave some learners struggling. Accessible systems allow all apprentices to focus their time and energy on learning and working, rather than battling with tools that should be there to help them.

Flexible learning builds a flexible workforce

It’s become apparent over the past year that flexibility is key for navigating and thriving in work. To ensure that the workforce of tomorrow is able to excel, the learning journey should reflect working life.

In July 2021, the government’s new Flexible Apprenticeship Scheme will launch. Tim Davie CBE, Director-General of the BBC, said of it,: “I believe flexible apprenticeship schemes are critical for the future of our industry. Apprenticeships not only grow our skills base and expertise, but open up the industry to people from a wide range of backgrounds. That’s great for our industry and great for mobility. Everybody wins.”

We have all come to expect flexibility from work and life. Being able to set our own schedules, manage our own time and achieve what we need to according to our own priorities is becoming a permanent feature of working life in a way it wasn’t before. To prepare apprentices for this, flexibility should be designed into apprenticeship schemes. 

A combination of self-guided study and classroom hours is an effective structure to follow. Particularly because of coronavirus, but increasingly because the benefits of being remote have been proven beyond doubt, enabling apprentices to access learning modules digitally, engage with their teachers in digital classrooms and via video chat, leads to the best student learning experience. And this approach will also provide learners with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace, including confidence using digital systems and video chat for professional and academic purposes, as well as developing essential time-management skills.

Driving engagement and motivation

Self-guided learning holds many benefits for apprentices, allowing them to progress at their own pace, fit their studies alongside their work and social lives, and giving them control of their own learning journey.

Nonetheless, it can be difficult for students to remain motivated without the encouragement from teachers that they’ve been used to at school. One of the benefits of using a digital platform to learn is the ability to track progress. For learners, being able to see how far they have come is a key motivator and will give them the determination they need to complete their apprenticeship.

Key to this is also the quality of the materials that students can access remotely. eLearning needs to be delivered in a variety of engaging formats to ensure that student attention is held. And this will also contribute to the accessibility of the programme as different learners absorb and retain information in different ways. Diverse eLearning materials will support the broadest range of apprentices to thrive in their apprenticeship.

Ease of use

Young people entering apprenticeships today are digital natives and, as such, have far less patience than previous generations for platforms and systems that don’t function smoothly. They have higher expectations for a seamless experience. They want great user experience across different devices (particularly on mobile) and a system that is quick and simple to use. It should be integrated, for example, with other key tools they may use. The technical aspects of the tools used to support apprenticeships will make all the difference to the fluidity, and therefore effectiveness, of the apprentice learner experience.

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