The Growth Company is contracted by the Department for Education to administer and manage the matrix Standard starting on 11th January 2020.
Evolution through the pandemic: Babbington's Journey with the matrix Standard
The matrix Standard, which is the Department for Educations Standard for Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) is 10 years old. The Growth Company which delivers the standard has been asked to review and update the Standard. As part of the review over 50 organisations have been consulted. In this article we look at one of these organisations Babington and describe the way in which the delivery of IAG is evolving to unlock the aspirations of learners. Consideration will be given to what can be learnt from this to support the development of the matrix Standard. The themes of on-line support, wellbeing and employer involvement will be considered.
Looking first at online support throughout the pandemic, Babington like many have been committed to supporting learners through a disruptive and challenging period. This has resulted in a permanent shift to a fully blended and inclusive delivery model to ensure learners, employers and stakeholders continued to receive a consistent and differentiated experience. Whilst the organisation was already combining teaching, learning, and assessment with innovative technology, they soon realised that their Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) also had to be reviewed, starting with technology to support recruitment to provide candidates with increased flexibility to access services.
They launched additional online IAG material, using PageTiger, to ensure the information is always current and accurate. The impact of these new welcome guides for learners and employers is clear as they are now seeing fewer low-level inquiries from learners at the onboarding stage. The ‘live-chat’ facility is managed by the central customer support team who have direct access to a qualification directory and explore options with learners so they can make informed choices about their journey.
Teams of skilled engagement advisers explore avenues offered to candidates through in-depth discussions, a pre-entry questionnaire, initial and diagnostic assessments, and a thorough skills gap analysis. No two apprentices are the same, and neither should their learning experience be. Candidates gradually become well-prepared learners with all the information they need to start on their individualised journey.
The whole team moved from in person to live-streamed sessions using a variety of tools such as MS Teams but their focus continued to be to understand the specific needs and aspirations of each learner, guiding them in their aspirations and ambitions despite the challenging circumstances they were facing in the pandemic. They listened to their learners during the pandemic and their feedback helped them to review the curriculum and the sequencing of sessions, adding online forums and diversified channels so learners could interact and communicate. They built a high-flex curriculum that focuses on the whole experience from start to finish, which can be adjusted and adapted to individuals’ needs which is the reason why they also provided learners with additional wellbeing resources, e-safety information and motivational webinars.
From the outset employers are part of the apprentices’ journey, which is critical to ensure they understand how best to support them both in the workplace and with their programme. Training employers on how to use the online learning platform was crucial so they can see the content and the progress their apprentices are making, facilitating conversations through remote reviews. This is a crucial component to ensure a tripartite commitment.
Building on the theme of wellbeing. Babington with its 18,000 learners and about 400 staff recognised the need to support to further support wellbeing of all. The organisation implemented a ‘wellbeing strategy’ which included a broad range of support for psychological, physical, and social wellbeing. The support included Mental Health Resources on how to spot signs then initiate a conversation; promote self-care such as taking appropriate breaks for refreshments, exercise and thinking time; a wellbeing festival and podcasts to share experiences and increase engagement. Whilst aimed at leaders and staff the wellbeing strategy had wider benefits for learners as the skills were transferable.
With learners on Bootcamp programmes, they included Contribution Compass (https://www.contributioncompass.com/ ), a strengths-based profiling tool to help learners to better understand their starting points and measure the distance travelled in their personal development at the end of the programme. It has made a real difference and learners confirm they have grown in terms of confidence and resilience and are clearer about their aspirations, feeling well prepared and empowered following their programme.
For those more vulnerable learners, Programme Enrolment colleagues worked closely with the delivery and customer support teams as well as the Safe and Sound team and SEND Specialist to provide learners throughout their programme. The Safe and Sound team trained in safeguarding and mental health first aid have a wide network of external support services to ensure learners can be quickly referred to accredited professionals and/or agencies within their local area.
This all adds up to not only a better service for the learner but also the employer. Working with many small, medium, and large employers, throughout the pandemic they responded to employers’ requests to share recorded CVs, complete online interviews and work remotely. Staff provided candidates with up-to-date and unbiased information and tailored pastoral support. The result? Even in challenging times, candidates felt confident, well equipped and ready to make their mark within their chosen role.
Testament to this, recent research by the St Martin’s Group and NCFE found that 62% of businesses agree or strongly agree that apprentices have been beneficial to their business during the pandemic* (based on research by the St Matin’s Group, in partnership with City and Guilds and NCFE - https://stmartinsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/The-St-Martins-Group_The-Real-Costs-and-Benefits-of-Apprenticeships.pdf )
Reflecting on what this may mean for the future direction of the matrix Standard.
- The Standard should better reflect online and blended methods of delivering IAG. This may include 1-1 interventions, group support, self-serve, self-referral and all via different channels.
- Whilst technology is important, the competence of skilled advisers must not be understated as they have a key role in establishing personal aspirations and tailoring individual support.
- The development of what are regarded as softer skills such as confidence and resilience should be recognised within the Standard as this builds greater self-reliance and leads to better outcomes.
- The use of a distance travel approach to measure progress through a tool such as Contribution Compass may be beneficial.
- The wellbeing of staff and learners is something which should be reflected in the matrix Standard as being in the right state of mind is crucial to both provide and receive IAG. Whilst wellbeing and mental health are important there must be clear boundaries that enable staff to guide people to appropriate professional support.
Couple of learner quotes which could be used in the article:
“My personal experience with Babington has been quite the journey. My tutor is a fount of knowledge with years of experience and also has excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Not only did he give me the information I required but would always give examples and scenarios for better understanding. He kept me engaged with perseverance and the patience of a saint at times when I wanted to give up. If it wasn't for him, I would not have passed this course due to personal issues in my life and in the workplace. He has been my tutor, my mentor, even my counsellor at times when I've presented work related problems to him! He's given me invaluable advice and guidance, recommended books and papers that I will refer to for life. He has slowly moulded me into the manager I am today armed with knowledge, understanding, best practice and the confidence to lead and support a team of people. The course was difficult and long as expected but thanks to the consistent reassurance of my abilities, my tutor gave me the confidence to turned things around. This achievement has changed my family's life and I will be forever grateful for all the support given to me, thank you so much.”
– HR Support Level 3 Apprenticeship learner, September 2021
“I have had a great experience with Babington, they have been the best online study provider I have ever worked with. Unlike other online courses, I felt appreciated and supported as a human being rather than just an online user. From the beginning, the application process was helpful and access to funding was supported. The staff made sure that my learning needs were fully catered for unlike many others, and I was fully supported by lovely staff throughout. It was great to check in with my learner coordinator regularly and my tutor was fantastic and enthusiastic. I couldn't recommend this company more to any potential learners. Thank you and I hope to study on more courses with you guys in future.” Employability learner, August 2021