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Skills and training: upskilling the nation during COVID-19

Victoria Giles Victoria Giles

With the majority of workers at home and travel restricted, this is a challenging time for the skills and training industry. With most businesses cutting back, it can seem like the wrong time to invest in virtual training, but Victoria Giles believes it's essential to get through the current circumstances.

The COVID-19 situation has made the skills and training industry rethink its strategy. Many providers have a weighting towards face-to-face training, but travel restrictions and social distancing are limiting what can be done offline. This has led to interruption across learning programmes and disruptions in assessment for certifications and qualifications.

New skills and training delivery models

As a result, we have seen business owners and organisations in the sector making significant changes to their delivery models, focussed towards eLearning and virtual training. However, with many global corporates and employers scrutinising their people spend and associated training budgets, ensuring the learner is still at the heart of continued training and content remains fit for purpose, has become extremely difficult.

The government has launched a range of initiatives to support businesses through the current circumstances. This is particularly the case with any apprenticeship training provider waiting on tenterhooks on an announcement from the DfE and ESFA that there will be some provider support coming. Current policy states that funding for apprenticeships is to be claimed retrospectively on completion of training, which is obviously much more difficult to complete in the current circumstances. The long-term impact of this could be significant for the sector, as the economy has been reminded that apprentices are employees, and therefore, simply pausing learning or moving online is not always viable.

The importance of skills and training

Interestingly, the situation has highlighted the importance of learning within corporates. Well-being and motivation is being tested with remote working and having digital learning capability is no longer optional. We believe that the unprecedented economic impact will only act as a long-term accelerator for growth across the industry, with the upskilling of the global workforce a priority. Traditional training providers will be leaning on eLearning businesses to accelerate their digital offering to maintain delivery.

Extraordinary changes

Lee Findell, Director for WA Comms, explains “the COVID-19 pandemic has seen extraordinary changes to the way we live. Not least amongst these is the return of ‘big government’. While this may ultimately prove to be a temporary measure, there is an opportunity for businesses in the skills and training sector to make the case not only for what support your business needs now, but what role you can play in helping the country recover as we move back towards some semblance of normality.

"The government is in listening mode, and now is the time to plan, communicate and lobby on how your business will be able to support the recovery in providing innovative solutions, as the government looks to understand which industries and skills it will need to back in the new world that will emerge out of this pandemic,” he continues.

The new normal

Ultimately, with an immediate impact on activity in the skills and training market, business owners need to perform scenario planning to stress-test their business. This could cover periods into early 2021, particularly where apprenticeship starts, or corporate training programmes are being delayed. Businesses may have to work closely with lenders and use one or more of the government initiatives available, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). The first draw-downs are expected in early May, however, there are other self-help measures business leaders should be exploring in advance of this.

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Mitigating actions

We've distilled our focus points into six key areas for the skills and training sector to consider:

People

Keeping them safe, motivated and enabled to do their jobs

Areas of consideration

  • The greatest asset of training providers is their people, but it also means the greatest cost is also people-related
  • Some training businesses have furloughed trainers and assessors where a switch to virtual training hasn’t been possible and reducing the number of working days for employees is also an alternative
  • Furloughed employees (including apprentices) can undergo training, but cannot work for the business while salary support is claimed, so this provides an opportunity for online training schemes to be implemented with clients exercising the programme
  • Companies should ensure high engagement to keep their people motivated and re-assured with regular monitoring and support of employee mental health
  • Review immediate impacts and strategic resource

Initiatives

Liquidity, contingency and claims

Ensuring your stability for the future

Areas of consideration

  • Understanding future cash flow and the implications for solvency and continued trading
  • Daily cashflow forecasting, accounting for likely increased debtor day profile
  • Approaching existing and new lenders about funding needs and liquidity
  • If an apprenticeship provider, accurately forecasting any break in learning, on-programme payments and any “pauses” and impact on cashflow
  • Scenario-planning of pinches on cash where training programmes are being delayed or where apprentice starts are materially reduced across lockdown

Initiatives

Technology

Managing your stability and digital risk

Areas of consideration

  • Maintaining training delivery online or virtually amid pressure on local broadband infrastructure
  • With increased virtual and digital delivery programmes, can your technology or support provider cope with increased demand?
  • Managing communications to stakeholders

Initiatives

  • Implementing and enforcing a formal remote-working policy
  • Conducting external reconnaissance of your digital presence, and penetration testing

Regulatory changes

Stay compliant now and in the future

Areas of consideration

  • Keeping up to date with the regulatory environment
  • Daily government announcements, changing guidance and new legislation

Initiatives

  • ESFA On Programme payments/Break in Learning
  • Reschedule audit dates and filing deadlines

Customers and suppliers

Keeping them informed, secure and prepared for change

Areas of consideration

  • Establishing effective methods of cash collection and adjusting terms of payment
  • Forecasting and mitigating supplier risk around financial and operational failure
  • Increase communication with clients around options, ie, reschedule discounts instead of cancelled training programmes

Initiatives

  • Accelerating customer settlements
  • Short-term cashflow forecasting, including customer payments and receipts

Operations

Meeting customer demands effectively and efficiently

Areas of consideration

  • Mitigating risks to business continuity
  • Adapting to the circumstances while trying to create a greater certainty of demand and supply
  • Ability to maintain and create relevant content
  • Consistent and regular learner progress reporting
  • Close monitoring of learner welfare

Initiatives

  • Training a multi-disciplinary people base
  • Allocation and redeployment of labour resources
  • Defer non-essential and uncommitted capital expenditure

If you would like any support on the issues discussed, contact Victoria Giles or Keely Woodley.

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