Building the future workforce during COVID-19

Dave Crew

Written by Dave Crew – Head of Business Growth and Employer Partnership at Weston College

I’m sure you’re reading this reflecting upon what has been a turbulent period during the pandemic. I’ve always said that people are the foundation of any business and we’ve seen a real collective effort from our team who continue to train our 30,000 learners and support our 2000 strong employer network, many of which employ apprentices. Like most businesses, we’ve experienced challenging times but we’ve seen the entrepreneurial spirit from our staff, who transformed our college online in March delivering over 4,000 online training sessions during the first week in lockdown, deliver outstanding support for our learners.

Despite challenging times, employers still recognise skills as a key issue. The recent Open University Business Barometer report (August 2020) highlighted 56% of UK employers continue to experience skills shortages and 61% of employers say that they’re not as agile as they need to be because of skills shortages.

Nationally, the number of apprentices being hired is down however Weston College is bucking the trend with a large number of new apprentices joining us recently. Businesses such as Future Stars Coaching have taken on apprentices to supports its growth plans during the pandemic. Ben Hazeldine, owner of Future Stars Coaching, said: “For the last seven years, we’ve taken on five apprentices each year to earn qualifications through practical and first-hand experience working at our 35 partner schools. This year, we’re working with five new apprentices who we feel have already made a positive impact despite only working with us for a short time. We’re keen to ensure that those who join us in September are not just here with us for a year. We want them to know that if they work to our high standards, we will happily find a role for them once they have finished their course and we encourage them to view sports coaching as a lifelong career. One of the first apprentices who trained with us through this programme is now on our Senior Management Team and going from strength to strength. Taking on apprentices has allowed the business to grow since we’re able to offer more services to our customers as we have a regular recruitment process thanks to the programme with Weston College.”

We’ve also seen employers review their management infrastructure and explore funded training programmes. EPS Services and Tooling, a manufacturing business in Somerset, have accessed Weston College management training which as an SME, presents an affordable option as 95% of apprenticeship training fees are funded. Nick Palmer, Managing Director said: “One of our key company objectives is to develop our management talent for the future. Despite the current climate we needed to see beyond the immediate issues and look ahead. During lockdown I approached Weston College to access online leadership courses to give my staff the opportunity to develop their knowledge or managing people which proved successful. I’ve now asked the College to enrol two of my supervisors on a Leadership Apprenticeship, which will give them up to 18 months training through workshops and work-based assessments. For a small business the apprenticeship programme is a cost-effective tool to both develop our talent and motivate individual members of staff. This programme helps us illustrate that working for EPS is worth more than just monthly pay cheque.”

Despite Covid-19 causing unimaginable disruption, I’ll say it again, great businesses have great people. Here at Weston College, we’re as committed as we’ve ever been to offering bespoke training and apprenticeships, delivering our mission of creating brighter futures.

Visit our Covid-19 Recovery Hub to understand the options and funding available –