Managing Director, Training Qualifications UK
After months of virtual pubs, family quizzes and video conference calls, the national lockdown is slowly lifting. By the middle of the summer, we could be in a position to do some of the things we’ve missed recently: seeing friends, going down the pub, and - most exciting for me - watching the football; even if it does mean Liverpool finally win the title.
More than that though, businesses that have had to limit or temporarily close operations will have the opportunity to get back into gear. For everyone in our industry, it means we can get back to what we’re all so passionate about: helping learners and Apprentices gain the skills they need to achieve their dreams. This won’t be easy though. Just as lockdown created a range of challenges, so too will bounce back.
Here at Training Qualifications UK, we’ve been planning our bounce back for weeks now. We’ve been looking at ways to safely get our staff back into the office and what we can do to help our centres resume their operations, so that when the time is right, we can offer the kind of straightforward support that we’ve made our name for.
This has been a time for industry and country-wide collaboration where we’ve all been in it together for the common good. So I wanted to spend some time in this post suggesting things that may help you in your own bounce back.
At the forefront of everyone’s mind is ‘the new normal’: what workplaces look like post-lockdown with COVID-19 measures in place. The government has now published its health and safety advice, and while it’s hardly the kind of page-turning thrill-ride we’d normally be considering for our beach read at this time of year, it’s clear, sound guidance that offers the leadership and reassurance businesses need.
We’re working it into our approach, as well as considering the issues we previously knew we’d need to take into account, like spacing out desks and making hand sanitizer and soap freely available. Even things as simple as keeping doors open to reduce the number of times people need to touch the handles can help. No detail is too small.
There is, however, no single ‘right’ answer: it will be different for each place of business, depending on the size of your workforce, the number of learners you have, the physical space available and many more details besides.
Whatever your new normal is, ensure it’s plainly defined, simple to understand and clearly communicated to everyone who’ll need to attend your building. In such a sensitive and difficult time, clarity is your greatest asset.
Once you’ve got to grips with how to get your staff and learners back safely, let your AO and/or EPAO know that you’re back and devise a collaborative plan together.
Over the course of the lockdown, we at Training Qualifications UK have worked with trailblazer groups, EQAs and other AOs and EPAOs to help shape the industry during this time. This process has been incredibly important and hugely rewarding - and we’re confident collaboration will do the same for you.
So fire up the video conferencing software (yes, again!) and request a meeting with your key contacts.
It’s important that this conversation is a full and frank one, as much as that’s possible. Coronavirus has impacted different businesses in different ways, so explain the issues that are important to you and understand the issues that your AO/EPAO has faced.
And don’t be afraid to challenge them! Don’t settle for the bare minimum: ask what they can do for you that you may never have thought of yourself. Only by being truly honest and totally comprehensive can you understand how to help each other.
Your learners are your lifeblood and the thing that you take most pride in. It’s important to ensure that they have everything they need to get their education underway again, and in doing so, details really matter. No-one should feel left behind and nothing should be delayed due to a lack of proper checks and balances.
To avoid this, you should create a comprehensive list of your learners and ensure (as appropriate) that they’ve been registered correctly, that certificates have been requested for those who need them and that those certificates have been dispatched.
Even in cases where certificates have been dispatched, make sure they’ve been successfully received too. Postal service delays and the possibility of learners living away from their normal address during lockdown (for example, with parents) means that this may not have happened in every case.
In some instances, your Awarding Organisation may have encouraged you to use a digital alternative to printed certificates. This is something we’re very proud to have offered for a number of years in the shape of our e-certificates, and we’re recommending that our centres prepare a list of learners who have been sent e-certificates and now require printed certificates as well.
For any inventories you create, be sure to include all the details your AO normally requests in as simple a format as possible so they can process them efficiently.
As I’ve mentioned, deliveries have been significantly affected during the lockdown, and as the country gets back to work, there will still be delays. This means that even with the most rigorous of inventories, fast delivery of certificates, manuals and any other collateral may not always be possible.
You should work with your AO to understand exactly what the roadmap for delivery is. This is a give-and-take scenario, and both yourself and your AO have to be understanding of each other’s needs and capabilities.
When it comes to manuals in particular, providers should give as much advance notice as possible, and when ordering stock, not simply place the order. Instead, discuss your requirements with your AO prior to ordering and ask for the turnaround time.
Delays may mean that a typical turnaround is not possible, but by talking it through with your AO, you can get a clearer understanding of the situation and in some cases where it’s necessary perhaps prioritise certain deliveries above others.
Since lockdown, everyone in the industry has been adapting to relaxations, alternatives and alterations to qualifications and standards. As lockdown restrictions are changed so too will these relaxations - and they’re likely to change quickly.
By now, you’ll have an understanding of what’s been altered, and you should be looking to your AO/EPAO for guidance on if, how and when they may be changed again for the post-lockdown world. This won’t always be easy. In some cases, there may not be a reversion back to pre-COVID ways, but a change into something new, and in others, nothing will change at all. Flexibility, collaboration and clear communication are key.
The same is true for EQA visits. Visits have been conducted remotely during lockdown, and that may not change as we enter the next stage. Even if face-to-face visits are possible again, they’ll be taking place under dramatically different circumstances than before. Again, defining and communicating the new normal of these circumstances is critical.
Your AO/EPAO should be proactively pursuing answers on both forthcoming EQA visits and change to relaxations. Collaborate with them closely, letting them know exactly the information you need and when you need it. Don’t be afraid to push them to fight your corner. They’ll be able to work across the industry to provide the information you need.
The new normal won’t just be a world of strange adaptations; there’ll be opportunities as well. The last few months have shown us the areas of our society that are absolutely critical.
We’ve also seen the importance of skills that have perhaps been taken for granted in the past. Digital know-how has kept everyone connected, while the emotional strain of these difficult times has shone a light on the need for wider understanding of mental health and wellbeing.
Our new world will likely see a greater interest in these areas. Looking to expand your portfolio and offer qualifications and standards that can help tap into that interest could give you a critical advantage in what’s looking likely to be a deep recession.
What’s more, in these times of togetherness and collaborative spirit, it’ll also help enrich society as a whole.
This is an incredible sector, filled with fantastic people working hard to achieve success. As we all get used to the new normal, I’m confident we can work together to emerge in an even stronger position than we were before this crisis began.