In this case study, we look at how we collaborated with Barnsley College.

Supporting progression with a flexible approach to apprenticeship delivery.

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Barnsley College was voted BTEC Apprenticeship Provider of the Year 2017 at this summer’s BTEC Awards, so we caught up with Yiannis Koursis, Deputy Principal, to find out what makes the South Yorkshire college’s approach to apprenticeship delivery stand out from the crowd. 

At Barnsley College, the student is at the heart of everything we do and we have invested significantly in creating learning environments which provide industry-standard equipment and real work-related learning opportunities, ensuring all of our students have the facilities and the skills that enable them to achieve in their chosen industry.

Through partnerships with industry stakeholders, the college is committed to enhancing all students’ learning experiences by giving them structured programmes to develop their employability skills and commercial acumen.

The college has a flexible approach to its apprenticeship delivery and the majority of the provision accommodates a roll-on roll-off model. This flexible delivery models means new apprentices can start their programme anytime during the academic year, and event change from a full-time course to an apprenticeship if they wish. 

All students are encouraged to progress onto higher-level apprenticeships or Higher Education.

Our Progression Coordinators facilitate the progression of students and apprentices within college departments. They are the main point of contact and provide the receiving department with background information before the student transfers/ progresses onto a higher qualification.

The college hosts events throughout the academic year, including:

  • Progression Fair - students can find out about the courses that are available.
  • Higher Education Fair - all students are invited to attend and find out about the range of degrees available from a range of universities.

In 2011/12 the college introduced Think Barnsley Ltd, an ATA model. Since then, the ATA has supported over 50 apprentices into a full employed status apprenticeship, resulting in new employers supporting the apprenticeship model. The ATA is a recognised company with the Find an Apprenticeship Service.

Using the ATA, the college is able to provide apprenticeships to small and medium enterprises that may not have the knowledge or provision to recruit and keep an apprentice. It helps businesses to recruit an apprentice as well as deal with all the paperwork and personnel management that an apprentice brings. Under this model the college:

  • Recruits the apprentice
  • Hires the apprentice to the business, so they become the host employer
  • Deals with all the recruitment, HR and payment of the apprentice

Apprenticeships are a key strategic priority for the college’s Senior Management Team and are heavily promoted to current students and the public through targeted advertising campaigns.

Each of the 12 curriculum departments actively promote live apprenticeship vacancies to students via noticeboards and in tutorial sessions.

The college hosts events throughout the year and they always generate lots of interest from current students and the general public. For example, the college organised and hosted a number of events that promoted apprenticeships in March 2017, including:

  • An Apprenticeship Roadshow
  • Promotional stalls held in the local travel interchange and shopping centres
  • Weekly information sessions

These activities encourage anyone who is interested in apprenticeships to find out about the process and to apply for vacancies. The events in March alone generated 164 enquiries with 93 contact forms being completed.  

Barnsley College is consistently one of the highest performing colleges in England. Overall, 95% of apprentices stay in employment upon course completion.

The college has invested £32.5 million on capital projects since 2014 in all curriculum areas, ensuring students learn in industry standard facilities.

The college has established six learning companies, including Elephant Designs and GEM Designs, which operate in the same way as normal businesses, but with apprentices at the helm. Learning companies provide apprentices with the opportunity to work on live projects. Luke Lister, a former GEM Design apprentice said: “It’s really good to be getting experience of working in a real business, rather than just learning about it.”

Also, the college has established two Skills Villages. These are specifically aimed at introducing students to construction related trades. The Villages are managed in partnership with a construction company to give a ‘live’ experience of working on a construction site. Throughout the course the students are given opportunities to enhance their employability skills and progress onto further training.

Flexible delivery is offered with evening/weekend and twilight classes to suit the needs of businesses and their staff. For example, in Business, Warehousing and Logistics, apprenticeships have been delivered entirely onsite at company premises, which minimises disruption. 

Barnsley College, in partnership with the One Barnsley Strategic Group, launched our Apprenticeship Pledge initiative in 2013, two years ahead of the Government’s 2020 Vision: English Apprenticeships report. This set a target for employers to employ 2.5% of its workforce in apprenticeship positions.

Working with companies across all industries, from the public and private sector, including SMEs and international corporations, the Pledge has a far reaching and long lasting effect.

The Pledge has achieved great success and has exceeded its objectives to grow apprenticeships, increase employment opportunities and develop a qualified workforce, as:

  • Over 500 businesses have formally signed; and
  • Collectively they employ over 1,000 apprentices.

This was taken a step further when Talent United, an employer ambassador programme, launched in 2015, bringing together the leaders of today with the talent of tomorrow. To date, 219 employers have got involved and over 2,000 students have benefitted from work-based opportunities, including work placements, guest speaker sessions and live projects.

Employers used to worry about putting employees onto work-based learning programmes, whether apprenticeships or any other form of training, in case they lost those employees to a competitor. Employers now recognise the long-term benefits and value to their business of up-skilling their workforce and recognise that by providing these opportunities they enhance their brand, recruitment and retention.

We feel the most significant positive impact of the new standards is the need for apprenticeships at higher levels, because the demand is increasing for level 4, 5 and 6 programmes. Employers recognise that this is a perfect opportunity to develop their workforce and can bring together whole cohorts of staff almost under their own brand through the apprenticeship standards.  

There have been a number of challenges nationally. Some employers feel the standards don’t necessarily offer the same level of flexibility that a framework does in terms of job roles as standards are very job-role specific. Potential students and parents are concerned standards don’t appear to have a formal qualification as an output. Both larger and SME employers have stated they would want a formal qualification output for their employees as part of credibility and transferability.  

Everything we do is very much demand-led, whether that is student demand or employer demand, so we will always use the local intelligence in relation to the job market. In the main, Barnsley has over the last decade been developing extensive relationships with both local and regional employers, to ensure that our students have an opportunity to progress into employment. It isn’t just about getting them the right qualifications, it’s about getting them the qualifications that will move them into employment and provide potential progression opportunities and a stable career.

The college continually develops provision that meets employer needs. As a current preferred provider for the National Health Service (NHS) in the region, the team works with them to upskill their workforce through the delivery of innovative training solutions. The NHS is the most significant employer in the region, but we operate with all employers in the same way, regardless of size.

An employer could come to us with a skill or business need, or we will enquire “what exactly is it that you need; where do you see your business being over the next three, six, nine, 12 months and how can we support you in the short term and make sure we’re developing the provision to meet your business growth needs?”. At the same time we would ask, “where do you see your provision in the next three to five years?” and look at the longer-term picture. This enables us to embed employer skills needs as part of our curriculum planning. We want to ensure that students coming into the college, either full-time or through apprenticeships, are not only taking the route that is best for them, but ultimately they can move into sustainable employment.

As an example, for the Leadership and Management standard at both levels 3 and 5, the Standard does not require formal qualifications. We have responded to Employer and Student need and embedded a formal accredited qualification as part of our Leadership and Management programme delivery.