Vocational Skills Solutions is a provider of vocational and bespoke training and development programmes, and like many firms and institutions in the industry, it has been forced to contend with a ceasing of face-to-face training provision during the Covid-19 lockdown period and a move toward online services. However, when speaking on the Leaders Council podcast, VSS managing director Phil Juniper stressed that large scale delivery of online learning cannot be the long-term strategy for the industry, and that the sector must find people-centric solutions.
Despite 220,000 jobs being lost over the second quarter of this year, the largest quarterly decline in employment since May to July 2009, VSS has benefited from an upsurge in business during the pandemic, as Phil outlined.
Sitting down with the Leaders Council’s Scott Challinor, Phil explained: “We predominantly work with unemployed people and our main business in getting them back into work by upskilling them through our training courses, so our business over the pandemic has increased.
“The major challenges we have faced predictably are around having to switch to online delivery. We have invested a lot into that and into staff training to support the switchover, but we’ve seen growth which has allowed us to service our vulnerable learners but also those who have recently been made redundant or furloughed. It is good for us to be in a position where we can act as a rescue arm for people to help upskill them and find new opportunities.”
The work of training providers like VSS will be crucial to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s vision of staving off mass unemployment, but while Covid-19 still has a presence and lockdown restrictions are in place, there is persistent debate over whether online learning could form an integral part of delivering education into the long-term future.
Despite that debate, Phil has ruled out making remote learning the cornerstone of the VSS strategy going forward.
He elaborated: “Remote models won’t always work long-term for the vulnerable people we work with, because they don’t always have the means of accessing the internet. So, we must be innovative in how we deliver training, be it over the phone, by email or loan out computers.
“Long term it isn’t sustainable to deliver education via remote means to people in disadvantaged communities, face-to-face delivery will always be superior in this sense.”
When asked what sort of future he envisioned for learning provision, Phil said: “I foresee a mix in future of online learning and classroom-based learning. Our focus at VSS is on ensuring that learners furthest from employment are not pushed further away from opportunity by the pandemic, and that we can keep them within arm’s length of the skills and training they need. We will deliver remotely in small proportions long-term, but it won’t bring about a change in business strategy.”