“Almost every step has had to be reinvented”: Vocational Skills Solutions MD speaks of the realities of Covid-19 for training providers

Published by Phil Juniper on September 28th 2020, 8:02am

As the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown forced businesses to pivot and rethink their offerings to reinvigorate income streams and secure survival, education and training providers are among those that have had to overhaul their delivery systems to provide remote learning and render their physical premises Covid-secure and safe for learners to return.

Writing for the Leaders Council, Phil Juniper, the managing director of vocational and bespoke training and development programmes provider, Vocational Skills Solutions, chronicles the realities of the pandemic for his business and elaborates on what they have had to do to maintain operations.

I would like to begin by wishing everyone and their families well. My family and I have been shielding since March 13 with our extremely vulnerable toddler, Theo, who suffers from Chronic Lung Disease. I have, therefore, witnesses first-hand the difficulties that many have faced over the last six months, with no real end in sight.

However, as things are reverting somewhat toward normality, whatever that ‘new normal’ will look like, my team and I have been very busy making our learning environments safe and secure for our returning learners.

When the pandemic arrived here in England, we like many others in our industry had to act fast to protect not only those who were losing their jobs in the dozens, but those learners who were already furthest away from employment. We worked hard to ensure that those that were furthest away, were not pushed even further away from the skills and support they needed. We set about redeveloping our delivery methods, implemented new IT systems and hardware, and invested heavily in staff training and professional development. As a result, we are proud to say that we were able to continue delivering our curriculum remotely to a large number of disadvantaged learners throughout this pandemic, many of whom have benefited both socially and economically during this very difficult, and worrying time.

It is hard to comprehend now the extent of the journey we have all made, physically, mentally, and emotionally to get to this point, so it is great to see nearly all learners attending their classroom sessions in these early weeks. It has been very different, but it has been orderly, and learners have mostly been very good with wearing facemasks. By the end of the days, some have been a little more casual than they should have been, but it has been an encouraging start.

The amount of work required to enable the reopening of our training centres throughout different regions has been extraordinary. Preparing a teaching environment to open in a pandemic has necessitated a complete overhaul and a rigorous review of even the smallest detail.

Looking back to the weeks before the pandemic emerged, it is striking how much we took for granted. We never questioned whether our training centres would open for a new year, or how we would prepare to welcome our learners. There has always been a familiar routine for everything, but almost every step this year has had to be reinvented.

We were fully aware that our learners would be apprehensive and in many cases worried about attending our centres, so it has been great to hear that initial feedback from them has been very positive, and learners have said they feel safe and protected in their learning environments. It was tempting to dwell on what was missing, but we had to remain focused on accomplishing what was important, and that is ensuring our learners receive quality education and learning, and are supported in to employment and/or further learning.

For now, we must continue to operate in bubbles, so that we have the greatest chance of keeping our training centres open. However, as we become increasingly confident in our control measures, we hope to be able to introduce more relaxed learning environments, for more learners.

I would urge everyone to continue to be considerate now and in the future. Stay safe, look after yourselves, and look after each other.

In July 2020, Vocational Skills Solutions managing director Phil Juniper appeared on the Leaders Council podcast series, discussing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the importance of robust leadership during times of crisis. You may listen to the interview here.

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Authored By

Phil Juniper
Managing Director at Vocational Skills Solutions
September 28th 2020, 8:02am

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