Sector report: Work-based learning 2021-2022
No. of providers 2022
The reduction in work-based learning lead providers is due to the new Welsh Government contract for the delivery of apprenticeship programmes starting in August 2021.
Of the 10 providers, six are further education colleges and four are independent training providers. These providers work with a range of other training providers using consortia, partnership and sub-contracting arrangements to deliver training on apprenticeship programmes at all levels.
No. of providers 2021
No. of apprenticeship learners
No higher apprenticeship learners
No. of level 3 learners
No. of level 2 learners (foundation apprenticeship)
No. learners in traineeships and other WBL programmes
Apprentices are employed and work in a wide range of occupations. Apprenticeships are available at level 2 and 3, and higher apprenticeship levels (level 4 and above). Learners undertaking apprenticeships are full-time members of their employer’s staff. Apprenticeship programmes generally take two to three years to complete.
Apprentices enter their training at different levels depending upon the job, their previous experience and the needs of employers. As well as developing their job-related skills in the workplace, apprentices work towards achieving a series of recognised qualifications.
Apprenticeship provider visits
From November 2021 to July 2022 we conducted visits to each of the 10 apprenticeship providers. Each visit resulted in a published letter.
Employability programmes for 16 to 18-year-olds
The contract for training providers to deliver traineeships and engagement programmes for 16 to 18-year-olds ran up until March 2022. From April 2022, the Welsh Government contracted training providers to deliver a new programme, Jobs Growth Wales Plus. These new employability programmes are delivered in regions, with five providers as lead providers. Two are independent training providers, one as a lead provider in all regions, the other as a lead provider in three of the four regions. There are three further education colleges as lead providers in particular regions. Other further education providers, training providers and third sector organisations have sub-contracting arrangements across the regions for this training.
Due to the change of contracting arrangements, we carried out limited work related to this provision during 2021-2022.
Since their full return to their workplaces and face-to-face activity off-the-job in September 2021, most learners engaged particularly well in their practical and theory activities. As a result, most learners made at least appropriate progress and a few made strong progress. A high number of learners have been recruited onto most apprenticeship programmes. As a result, nearly all providers are at capacity to meet their contract.
During the pandemic, several key sectors such as health and care, and childcare remained open. Learners in the health and care sector were under considerable pressure during and after the pandemic. Although they remained in the workplace and in the most challenging environment due to restrictions, their assessors were not allowed to visit. As a result, these learners were unable to complete their assessments in a timely manner in order to achieve their apprenticeships.
New entrants joining apprenticeship programmes often had literacy and numeracy skills below the levels of those learners who joined pre-pandemic. This was mainly due to lost learning from school or college. In a minority of cases, learners lacked confidence and resilience, but with personal support from their assessors and employers this improved quickly. Overall, many learners strengthened their digital skills because of the need to access remote learning and use a range of computer packages to support their learning, which was a positive development.
During this year, new entrants to apprenticeship programmes often continued to experience limited training activities on and off-the-job. In the best cases, learners benefited from strong support from their employers who made sure that learners had wide ranging opportunities to undertake on-the-job assessment tasks. Learners generally made reasonable progress in their theory knowledge, but slower progress in their practical assessments. Although assessors now have full access to workplaces, the sector has suffered from high learner drop-out rates and particularly slow learner progress and achievement. In learning areas that required learners to develop a clear understanding of science, mathematics and technologies, they missed the off the job activities and the support they gained from these sessions. Although hospitality and catering provision improved, health and social care continued to face challenges during this year. Dental nursing was also affected, with many learners leaving programmes early and not returning to the industry. Demand for construction apprenticeships was high, with employers recruiting increasing numbers of apprentices to meet their demanding workload.
Well-being and attitudes to learning
Nearly all learners welcomed their return to the workplace and off-the-job training. Although a very few were anxious about returning, attendance in the workplace and off-the-job was high.
Overall, learners enjoyed their training activities and demonstrated positive attitudes to their learning. They worked well with their employer, peers and clients. These learners quickly became valued members of their employer’s workforce and in the best cases, especially with higher level apprenticeships, learners took responsibility for their learning. Learners continuing their apprenticeships post-pandemic and new entrants were enthusiastic about their training and motivated to succeed, with the majority keen to progress to the next level.
Teaching and learning experiences
During the lockdown, teachers, trainers and assessors moved to remote learning quickly. This ability to respond swiftly was partly due to the previous work providers had done in using online learner portfolios and progress tracking. Many had also developed hubs where teaching and learning materials could be stored and accessed by teachers, trainers and assessors and learners.
When training centres and colleges were allowed to reopen, they prioritised learners who needed to complete outstanding practical assessments. Completing these assessments presented many problems for providers including:
- the adaptations that needed to be made, including social distancing
- the limited number of learners allowed in a workshop space
- restrictions on movement
- the need to wear face masks
- identification of COVID-19 symptoms
- restricting access and entry
- developing one-way systems
- only a few learners being able to use large workshops at any one time due to distancing rules
When learners returned to their employers and off-the-job training, they once again experienced a rich mix of activities, including remote sessions where appropriate. Most providers recognised that elements of remote learning would remain postpandemic. In most cases, learners’ progress reviews could be undertaken effectively remotely, with the benefit of less assessor travel and more time to spend with the learner. Higher apprenticeship learners usually undertake their programmes remotely, especially in leadership and management and digital skills. However, on most programmes, providers did not have a clear rationale for the balance of face-to-face and remote learning activity.
Nearly all teachers, trainers and assessors developed positive working relationships with learners that helped to support them to progress with their practical and theory work. In the best cases, provider staff knew their learners particularly well and gave strong levels of personal support that helped to build learner confidence and resilience. Assessors and training staff were flexible in the way they engaged with learners to adapt delivery methods to suit their learners’ needs, particularly in accommodating learners’ shift patterns and work pressures. Providers placed a high priority on using their accommodation and staff resources flexibly to make sure that learners had access to facilities and workshops to complete practical assessments and catch up with lost learning.
Many teachers, trainers and assessors had appropriate expectations of learners and set realistic, but challenging, targets for the completion of written work and practical assessments. In the minority of cases where teaching, training and assessment could be improved:
- All teachers, trainers and assessors did not challenge learners to achieve high quality work.
- Off-the-job theory sessions were not engaging enough.
- Learners’ individual learning plans often had generic target dates for the completion of work. These plans did not take into account learners’ starting points, their prior experience or the progress they were making.
Care, support and guidance
Across the network, work-based learning providers were acutely aware of the support learners may need to help them succeed. During the pandemic and upon the return to face-to-face activity, provider staff made learners’ well-being their highest priority. In all providers, trainers, assessors and specialist support staff gave learners targeted help with their well-being and personal support needs. Where appropriate, staff referred learners to specialist agencies, such as counselling services. As a result of strong provider and external agency support, many learners remained on programmes and made progress. Due to this focused support, many learners felt well cared for by their provider and completed or made strong progress towards completing their apprenticeship.
Many providers strengthened their procedures for tracking learners’ progress and well-being during the pandemic. In the best cases, these processes included the development of an at-risk learner register. These registers allowed staff to maintain regular contact with particularly vulnerable learners and provide high levels of personal support. The registers and regular contact gave providers early warning if learners were experiencing difficulties and allowed them to put a wide range of interventions in place quickly when a need was identified. As a result, these learners generally remained on-programme and their health and well-being werewell supported.
Across the work-based learning network, teachers, trainers and assessors understood their roles and responsibility well in relation to safeguarding learners. In many cases, teachers, trainers and assessors developed learners’ understanding of radicalisation appropriately.
During the initial year of the new apprenticeship contract, working relationships with sub-contractors and partners have been well established and relationships, processes and practices with new sub-contractors are being developed. All providers have taken on displaced learners from training providers who were not awarded an apprenticeship contract. Leaders and staff are supporting these learners well to make progress in completing their apprenticeship programmes.
Building on work during the pandemic, senior leaders strengthened their communication with key partners, including consortia members, new subcontractors, employers, and staff. This communication was wide-ranging and varied and included remote meetings, emails, and vlogs to provide updates and information on key developments such as employer demand, learner performance, and updates from the Welsh Government and awarding bodies. This was particularly beneficial to key partners and staff, who appreciated the support they were being given. This resource provides self-reflection questions to support work-based learning providers to further improve partnership working.
Professional learning was a high priority across providers, with remote delivery and digital skills being key areas of development. Leaders placed a strong focus on supporting their staff to develop their digital skills to help learners maintain their engagement and make progress. Coming out of the pandemic, leaders took the opportunity to reflect on remote learning and plan future remote learning activity where it provided most benefit to learners. In the best cases, providers recognised that remote learning suited a few learner groups better than face-to-face learning.
During lockdown and the return to face-to-face teaching, managers placed a clear focus on supporting the well-being of learners and teachers, trainers and assessors. Although providers maintained many aspects of their quality assurance processes it was particularly difficult to review the effectiveness of teaching, training and assessment. This was especially the case early in the pandemic where senior managers were mindful of the balance between holding staff to account and supporting their health and well-being. As the year progressed, in the best cases managers developed strategies to review the effectiveness of teaching, assessment and learning. However, challenges remain due to the difficulties related to the complexity of the assessment and training arrangements for vocational and technical qualifications.