Why we must continue to champion Apprentices now, and in the future, despite COVID-19 disruptions

The year 2020 will go down in history forever, having affected almost all ways of life and work. One of the greatest impacts COVID-19 has had on workforces is the enormous uncertainty for employers and training providers delivering apprenticeships.

Before the new-normal, employers and training providers delivering apprenticeships relied on face-to-face interaction to conduct the required End-Point Assessment (EPA) for Apprentices in England. The EPA is an external and independent, quality-assured process that employers can rely on, to ensure their Apprentices have the skills required to complete their Apprenticeship. Importantly, the EPA is based on the Standards, to assess that Apprentices have the competencies to do the job they have been trained for.

Without the ability to conduct face to face EPAs during the first wave, coupled with measures some key sectors had to take to support the fight against COVID-19, meant completion of apprenticeships, and necessary assessments, became difficult and uncertain. As an EPA Organisation, like our customers, we found the need to quickly adapt our way of working to carry on supporting employers, provide expert guidance, and continue to deliver assessments in any way we could.

Despite the turbulent, and uncertain last year caused by the pandemic, our independent assessors, managed by an in-house team of Apprenticeship experts, delivered a record-breaking number of EPAs, vital for key sectors to continue to develop their future workforce.

Whilst EPA was paused for a brief period in the first lockdown due to Government guidelines, our team worked closely with employers and training providers to reschedule and adapt the delivery of EPA to ensure apprentices were not left behind.

We believe that apprentices should be at the heart of the EPA process, so that they achieve the outcome they deserve, complete their apprenticeship, and move on to the next stage in their career. In 2020, regardless of COVID-19 and the impact on our ways of working, our team supported employers delivering apprenticeships by:
  • Completing over 600 EPAs in vital key sectors, including Policing, Fire & Rescue, and Custody and Detention.
  • Successfully passing External Quality Assurance audits for Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) and Operational Firefighter apprenticeships, two critical roles that enable the continuous development of the public sector workforce.
  • Delivering our first EPAs for Police Community Support Officer and Community Safety Advisor, meaning many more highly skilled and qualified PCSO’s and CSA’s were able to get to work and help deliver vital public services.
  • Successfully implementing virtual EPAs for PCSO, Custody and Detention Officer, Community Safety Advisor, keeping apprentices, employers, and our teams safer from COVID-19, whilst still ensuring apprentices were robustly assessed for the skills and competencies needed in their role.
  • Working closely with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) to have flexibilities agreed for all the standards we deliver, to enable EPAs to continue to take place during COVID-19 – these dispensations are now in place until at least the end of August 2021, providing employers and apprentices with peace of mind they will be able to complete and be properly assessed for their apprenticeship.

Fire & Rescue services have been vital throughout 2020, and we have been delighted to be able to continue to support them with the delivery of EPA for Operational Firefighter Apprentices. One of our close customers, a Workplace Apprenticeship Co-ordinator from the Fire & Rescue sector said:

“The support from SFJ Awards was exceptional from start to finish. Not just the final two days of EPA, but all the preparation work that was provided by Kit Salt, Nichola Gutteridge and the bookings team, which helped us even before we were entering the EPA process. They supported us to understand what to expect, how to get the best out of our apprentices and this was a massive help.

“Once in the EPA process, the support did not stop. Nichola was there every step of the way guiding us. On the final 2 days of assessment, the independent End-Point Assessors, Mark and Steve, showed real professionalism throughout, putting our apprentices and facilitators at ease, which made the day run really smoothly.

“Some scenarios were adapted to suit our needs, facility and equipment, which was great as the team understood one scenario will not fit all services. Throughout the process this seemed like a personalised package just for us. It was the perfect way to finish off our apprentices’ journey.”

Whilst 2020 is a year we all hope is a one off, our team have been on-hand to support employers and apprenticeships through these challenging times, and crucially maintaining the delivery of vital EPA programmes in key sectors, to secure a highly skilled, sustainable workforce for the future.

In 2021 we will be re-emphasising our support for the key roles needed in Policing, and Fire & Rescue, with the delivery of the Intelligence Analyst Level 4 EPA, and the delivery of version two of the Operational Firefighter EPA. To find out more about our support and guidance for End-Point Assessment during COVID-19, please read our recent statement and updated FAQ’s.

Supporting Operational Firefighter EPA

Hosted live in February 2021, by SFJ Awards End-Point Assessment Service Manager Kit Salt. This ‘less than 1 hour’ webinar delivered vital information for employers providing apprenticeships for Operational Firefighters, and the changes to expect from the End-Point Assessment in recent updates to the EPA requirements. Supported by Independent End-Point Assessor, Steve Fealy, the webinar, now on-demand, provides an overview of the ways assessments are due to change in 20201 for apprentices.

Watch on-demand

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