Apprenticeships: the need for a clear digital pathway

The pace of technology is frighteningly fast. I’m sure, like me, you have a drawer with a variety of redundant phones lying in it. A testimony to progress, each one smaller, thinner, lighter, and more powerful than the last. In the year 2000 a mere 25% of data was stored digitally, this is now over 95%, and the volume stored has increased by over 20% per annum! It is extremely difficult to think of any job today that does not embrace some digital element. That is why the new English apprenticeship frameworks must consider digital as an integral part of the program.

The proposal for a new style of apprenticeship, with greater input from employers, had its origins in 2014. The first tranche of new apprenticeships has been in development by trailblazers since then. The very first of these are anticipated to begin delivery in the Autumn of this year. However, the path towards these new apprenticeships, with greater employer ownership, has not been without obstacles. Delays to announcements, confusion over the employers’ levy and changes in government have made many wary of the changes in progress.

In May 2015 the House of Lords select committee on Digital Skills called for a set of actions to address the identified UK digital shortfall in skills. “Changing demands from firms, consumers, students and communities mean that apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and degrees need to deliver more general—and also specific—digital capabilities.”

It goes on to identify that other countries ranked economically higher than the UK, have invested substantially more in ‘digital foundations’ and up-skilling. One of the actions recognised is the need for digital elements in all apprenticeships and for more specific digital apprenticeships for relevant industry sectors. As a result, digital literacy has been recognised as an important element of the new frameworks.

Where there is an opportunity to truly make a difference with a new style of apprenticeship, though, is through the requirement of digital assessment. If this was mandatory it would necessitate the upskilling of both learners and assessors to utilize the digital platform.

With the old style apprenticeships, progress was charted via the production of a portfolio over the course of study. Whilst some of these were via an ePortfolio, the majority still tended to be paper based. The reason for this often being resistance by assessors, rather than the learners.

The new apprenticeships will still require charting of progress – evidence of readiness and tracking of achievements, but these will no longer underpin the final qualification. The end point assessment (EPA) will be the license to practice. The format of this EPA is not dictated as it is recognised that one format will not fit all industries. However, the potential assessments – observation of set tasks by an assessor, written assessment or exam style questions, personal statements of achievement, professional discussions, workplace projects… which all need to be recorded in a secure environment, lend themselves to digital assessment.

eCom have worked with SJIB (Scottish Joint Industry Board) to tailor a solution that exactly fitted their needs for assessing apprentices. In Scotland all electricians are required to complete a two-day assessment at a recognised centre to gain a license to practice. Assessors observe the apprentices and log competence on a tablet as they complete required tasks. To test underpinning knowledge there is an automatically marked, multiple choice test. The solution is secure, and verifiers can access the information remotely thus cutting down on either transportation of paper forms or travel costs.

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