Apprenticeships haven’t always had a good press. The government’s own scheme, for example, has often been lambasted by its critics as low-quality and suffering from patchy regulation. Why does that matter? Because apprenticeships are seen as a key part of the solution to the UK’s long-term low productivity problems. And if apprenticeships aren’t working, that is damaging to the economy, as well as to the people and businesses that apprenticeships are designed to support.
One organisation intent on raising apprenticeships to new performance levels within its industry is the Lift and Escalator Industry Association (LEIA). It is taking on the task of assessing apprentices – with the goal of ensuring they complete and fully profit from their courses, which benefits their employers and the industry itself. That means finding assessors with the right levels of experience and skills from across England to assess apprentices at the end of their learning journey.
At the helm of overall apprenticeship assessment operations for LEIA and charged with implementing its strategy is Karen Slade, who joined LEIA earlier this year as head of end-point assessment (EPA). She brings with her a wealth of experience as an EPA manager, assessor, lead IQA (internal quality assurer) and training and assessment developer. CIPD-qualified, she has worked within the public, private and the ‘third sector’ (charitable organisations). Her overall objective? “To help the association become the first-choice end-point assessment organisation for our industry’s apprenticeships.”
SHAPING THE NEW DIVISION
In this role, she will help to shape and launch the new division, designing and implementing the EPA business plan. At the same time, she will ensure compliance with Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) and is now pursuing that path vigorously, having just appointed a team of IEPAs (independent end point assessors) and IQAs (internal quality assurers) from a pool of applicants who are all occupationally competent industry experts. The team have been engaged on a self-employed associate basis and, once they have undertaken comprehensive training and induction, they will be assessing apprentices across the sector, in line with their own occupational competence. The team will grow as LEIA expands its assessor base.
All of the LEIA assessors come from the industry and have occupational expertise across the installation and maintenance of lifts, escalators and stairlifts, to ensure they have real credibility. “And that is in line with our goal of raising standards across the sector and ensuring we have a strong focus on safety. We want to know that when someone has been signed off on a specialist lift/escalator or stairlift apprenticeship as competent, that it also reflects the competency and skills of the people carrying out the assessments.”
That apart, she has been actively promoting the service on the association’s behalf and said there has been a positive response from the industry already. What about the apprenticeships themselves – will they be restricted to LEIA members? “No, this new initiative is open to all potential apprenticeship candidates. We recognise that not everyone in the lift and escalator industry is an LEIA member, and we want to reach everyone who can benefit from undertaking a specialised lift apprenticeship and will offer end-point assessment to all apprentices on these standards.”
Apprenticeship standards do require that the employer is involved, but it works with a specialist training provider (or can become an employer provider) to together train and develop the apprentices. “LEIA, as the trade association for the sector, is responsible for representing our members’ views, which are that EPA should be carried out by an organisation that understands the sector and can provide the most robust assessment, so it stands to reason that LEIA should offer EPA. Personally, I’ve been involved professionally with apprenticeships for the past decade or so, delivering the apprenticeship framework as a trainer-assessor, and have seen the benefits this brings. Previously, within the apprenticeship frameworks, when a trainer-assessor signed off an apprentice as competent, that was the end of the process. By contrast, and the strongest argument in favour of EPA, a separate trainer-assessor works with an apprentice throughout the training element of their programme, and a totally different and independent assessor carries out the EPA.
“What End-Point Assessment has been set up to ensure is that apprentices are judged and measured very much as someone taking GCSEs and higher-level exams might be. Most importantly, EPA presents a learner to an assessor who has no previous knowledge of that person or unconscious bias, so there is no possible conflict of interest. The whole assessment is based upon what the apprentice presents to them on that specific day, which means you can be sure the outcome of that assessment is a true representation of that apprentice’s competency. So, whereas apprenticeships might be thought to have lost their way, EPA gives them the credibility they need and deserve.”
There’s no doubt that EPA will challenge apprentices in a way that might not have been the case where the assessments were led by training providers, and there existed the opportunity for apprentices to build up a rapport with the assessor. That sometimes could potentially lead to over-familiarity and partiality in how assessments were carried out. “Under the new assessment system, apprentices are certainly going to feel the pressure. They are going to have to learn how to physically sit the assessments, cope with completing knowledge tests, and know how to present to somebody and be engaged in structured dialogues.”
LEIA, and any end point assessment organisation, she adds, will need to work very closely with the training providers and employers to make sure resources are fully prepared, so that apprentices feel happy and confident in their assessments.
Right now, in conjunction with training of assessors and the quality assurance team, LEIA is working on the development of the assessment materials for its Lift & Escalator Electromechanics Level 3 apprenticeship EPA, with learners due to come forward for EPA in the first quarter of 2022. The other apprenticeship on offer – Level 2, which covers stairlifts, lifting platforms and service lifts – complements the lift and escalator apprenticeship. Once apprentices have completed the EPA, the skills learned are designed to be transferable between employers, to the benefit of both the employee and the industry.
What does Slade see as the biggest change likely to emerge as the LEIA embarks on EPA? “Undoubtedly, having an apprenticeship designed by your sector, for your sector, is an amazing opportunity. And it’s something in which the employers have been fully engaged, helping us to develop our end-point assessments, as they have the same objective as the LEIA, which is to make our industry the best qualified and safest it can be.”