The idea that apprenticeship compliance is onerous has become a familiar motif. But if data is structured, argues John Brightwell, CTO of MWS Technology Ltd and the developer of the Aptem platform, organisations can be audit and inspection-ready.
The idea that business and other organisations are overregulated has become a familiar motif, associated with the ‘slashing red tape’ agenda from parts of the media and government.
We all know that apprenticeships have complex compliance requirements, where providers juggle multiple funding, delivery and quality rules from a variety of agencies, from Ofsted to the Education and Skills Funding Agency to the Office for Students.
I want to argue that the issue of apprenticeship compliance – and the feeling that we are in an overregulated area of policy - is a problem of data management. Structured data combined with intelligent ways to report on the data can make apprenticeship providers audit and inspection-ready at all times.
The first point to address is whether apprenticeships are over-regulated?
We are nowhere near as regulated as other industries. Banking and the medical device sector, for example, two industries I have worked in, have hugely complex systems of regulation – and rightly so. Comparatively, apprenticeships are highly regulated, certainly, but we are not overregulated.
We can learn from sectors that have highly complex systems of regulation. What industries like the banking and medical device sector know is that compliance is about having structured data.
All in one place
Data has evolved to be a rather messy business. It is common for an organisation to have different systems for distinct functions, from paper files and spreadsheets, to SharePoint, bespoke Access databases and eLearning platforms. And we are trying to use all those disparate systems to manage our apprenticeship compliance. No wonder people find regulation to be a headache.
The intelligent thing to do is to have all your data in the same place; one version of everything - the paperwork, the ILR, ILP, MIS records - all in one platform. This is what Aptem – an end-to-end apprenticeship and training delivery platform – delivers.
It delivers structured data.
Structured data simply means that data is stored according to a model, showing what kinds of data are going to be recorded and how that data will be stored, processed and then managed.
Having your data structured in one place gives you the ability to monitor compliance metrics. You can build a dashboard to see what is going on with your data in real time. You can performance manage as well as compliance manage to see how people are progressing. You can break down learner performance and assess it according to gender, ethnicity or any other metric you need.
You can manage your business processes. A client of mine was delivering traineeships through 19 separate subcontractors. It was never going to be possible for him to say where everyone was on their learner journeys, each having their own delivery process. We built a system to manage all 19 subcontractors in one place with common delivery plans, and his business works far better now.
Your data can tell you where you are going right and where you are going wrong. It can inform best practice.
Perhaps most importantly, having your data in one place, structured and having the metrics you need to monitor in place, means you are effectively permanently audit-ready.
Innovations in reporting
At Aptem, we are working on how to make all the data we generate in our system readily available to clients. We have developed an API that gives you full access to your data through Power BI, Microsoft’s flagship reporting service, as well as similar reporting tools. Here are two examples of how we are visualising that data.
The first is a simple MIS dashboard showing whether commitment statements, ILRs or other compliance documents are signed. There are a set of filters down the side that can show various metrics: employer, programme and case owner, for example.
The second is a progress report - three rings that show people who are on time, people who are late, slightly late and so on. And then you can run it through filters, such as standard and programme.
The data will show if you have a problem or an emergent risk. Here the data is being proactive, not just telling you what has happened, but also where issues might arise.
So you can use Power BI to generate this data visualisation. You can also access the UK government's Learning Aim's Reference Service (LARS) through Power BI. You can plug in your hub reports, so you can also look at what ESFA data is telling you.
Our plan is to use Power BI to build these data points for our clients. These new reporting functions will help you manage Ofsted and ESFA compliance and do clever stuff that can help you run your business.
Data is the future
Rather than be frightened of regulation, we need to understand that regulation requires structure. In heavily regulated industries, the first point of concern is how to structure and store their data so that it is sitting in a single environment where they can manage and monitor what is happening to it.
In apprenticeship and training compliance, we need to get to that point of understanding. The future is structured data, and structured data delivers compliance.