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Apprenticeships – adapting during the pandemic

20 January 2021

Following ICE’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference, Richard Davis, ICE’s Apprenticeship Manager, talks about how employers and ICE have been supporting apprentices through what has been a difficult year for their development.

Apprenticeships – adapting during the pandemic
ICE has been supporting apprentices though a difficult year in their development

Many of us find ourselves working in a totally different situation to where we were this time last year. Those of us who are more experienced in the ways of working may have been able to adapt to these changes more readily, and others not. But what if you are at the very start of your career and you have just begun to build the working relationships you need, and that immediate access is removed? What then?

The apprentice normally begins to develop their skills and confidence, and begin to work more independently, but they find themselves physically isolated from the positive influences that help them develop. They do not have years of experience to fall back on. Some recent apprentices have started their journey in a virtual world and have not had the experience of the physical office. We therefore need to adapt.

Adapting the modus operandi

Through its network of employers and training providers, ICE facilitated the discussion on looking after apprentices: induction, challenges faced and best practice. This topic was also lively debated at the ICE Annual Apprenticeship Conference on 20 November 2020.

Employers and training providers described how they have adapted their support to keep apprentices engaged and focused on developing the knowledge and acquiring the skills they will need for their future careers.

Training providers described how they are now providing blended learning to deliver academic aspects of the apprenticeship: preferred by some, but not others as the success of digital delivery is governed by the stability of internet connections (e.g. remote site offices) and digital poverty: not all apprentices have access to a laptop or PC.

ICE has also readily adapted to continue with the same level of support through the provision of online workshops and company and training provider visits. ICE was complimented by delegates at the conference on the level of support provided to apprenticeship stakeholders and the benefit it brings to those involved.

There are other positives that have resulted from the need to change: the apprentice can access digital materials whenever they prefer and may also refer back at their own convenience, and for live lectures, teaching staff can immediately evaluate the success of the lecture and adapt material accordingly.

But what about practical learning, for example experience in a materials lab or being out on site? Fortunately, to some extent, site apprentices still have access to peers and mentors, and in some cases, office-based apprentices have been moved on to site from their offices to try to maintain peer and mentor connectivity. Some training providers are known to have opened their facilities for longer to allow for safer working, giving apprentices important opportunities to learn.

Focusing minds to maintain engagement

During ICE and employer discussions, it was agreed there is a need to keep apprentices engaged to help them feel that they are part of something. For example, one employer described an 8-week internship that they had run for new starters with the aim of developing communication and collaboration. This exposed apprentices to a rota of experienced staff throughout the project, to encourage communication with others in the organisation.

Communication is seen as an important issue to help maintain motivation and engagement. Communication should be actively encouraged in apprentices, their peers and mentors. Where opportunities for learning by osmosis and immediate chat in the office are currently very few and far between, apprentices need to be encouraged to use other means available to communicate, and for them not to be afraid to do so: to continue to develop the community spirit, help satisfy the want to feel part of something bigger and enable them to learn, develop and record the evidence needed for successful completion of their apprenticeship.

Looking out for one another

Regular contact is not only reassuring in helping the apprentice to understand that they are either doing the right or the wrong thing, but also a means of being able to check up on their state of wellbeing.

Organisations, including ICE’s Benevolent Fund, recognise mental wellbeing is an important issue and are taking steps to look out for their employees and to provide support where necessary.

For ICE members, the Benevolent Fund has a 24-hour helpline, runs webinars and workshops, has an online wellbeing resource library, and provides mental health support, to name but a few of the benefits available.

ICE’s Membership Recruitment Team continues to give guidance and support to apprentices and their employers.

Visit our Apprenticeship Hub to find out more about ICE support for apprentices, plus discover more about the wellbeing resources and other support available from the ICE Benevolent Fund.

  • Richard Davis, Apprenticeship Manager at Institution of Civil Engineers