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Online learning helps Welsh apprentices forge ahead during the pandemic

While many businesses are closed during the Coronavirus pandemic, apprentices across Wales are forging ahead with their qualifications with online support from their learning provider.

Directors and staff at award winning, pan-Wales learning provider Cambrian Training are all working remotely from home during the pandemic but are staying connected to their learners via the City & Guilds’ Learning Assistant e-portfolio system.

Training officers use the Google Hangouts communications software to speak face to face with learners even though they are often hundreds of miles apart. This enables them to provide support and review evidence for learners’ apprenticeship portfolios.

Arwyn Watkins, OBE, Cambrian Training’s managing director, believes the pandemic has the potential to be transformational for the business, which has offices in Welshpool, Llanelli, Builth Wells, Holyhead and Colwyn Bay.

“The pandemic is making the company re-evaluate the way we do business, engage with learners and colleagues and how we utilise our IT resources to reduce our environmental impact,” he said.

“Going forward, there is no point in asking people to travel from all over Wales to every team meeting when it can be held remotely. We are going to learn a lot from the Coronavirus crisis about ourselves and the hidden talents we have within the business.”

With many apprentices across Wales also having to stay at home during the pandemic, they are using the time to press ahead with their apprenticeship portfolio.

Higher apprentice Steffan Walker, 26, is assistant manager at the Harbourmaster Hotel, Aberaeron, which was named Small Employer of the Year at the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru last year.

He has almost completed a Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4) in Hospitality, having progressed from an Apprenticeship and a Level 2 Wines and Spirits qualification.

“I am taking this time when the hotel is closed to complete my Higher Apprenticeship and am now on my last assignment,” he said. “Being able to complete my e-portfolio and to see and talk to my training officer, Hazel Thomas, online is great

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“I have been able to show her evidence and other pieces of work I had done for assignments. It’s a great learning tool and, hopefully, it is helping other apprentices as well.

“I want to keep on improving myself and the business because both benefit from apprenticeships. They have definitely helped me in my role, especially learning about different management styles and employment law.”

Steffan has worked at the hotel for 11 years, climbing through the ranks from pot washer to his current position. The hotel supported him while he competed for Great Britain in canoe slalom competitions around the world. He became number one in Wales and won a silver medal at the 2014 World Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom Championships in Australia.

Now his focus is on his career in the hospitality industry. “It was a bit of an identity change when I finished the sport,” he said. “I set myself high standards as a canoeist and I have taken them into my work.”

Hazel, who has 44 learners working towards a range of hospitality and professional cookery apprenticeships, said: “When the pandemic ends, I think we are going to be re-evaluating the importance of IT skills for communicating with learners and keeping in touch as a team.

“In the hospitality sector, the written element of the work is always the last thing to be completed by learners. This crisis has provided them with an opportunity to get on with this work and get it signed off by us. The learners absolutely love remote learning.”

Cambrian Training’s staff have further developed the e-portfolio system by creating videos to show apprentices how to use it and embedding a list of questions that they must answer.

“What we have developed by using our IT skills in the last two weeks has been phenomenal,” added Hazel. “I can’t tell you how much we have grown as a team.”

Apprenticeships in Wales are funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

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