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Upskilling and reskilling a diverse workforce

When Barnado’s was looking to introduce degree level apprenticeships, the children’s charity had several key criteria its apprenticeships provider had to meet. “We’re a national organisation – we’ve got staff right across the United Kingdom – and we really needed a partner who could work alongside us, understand our needs, understand where our staff were and how they worked, and provide the degrees as part of that,” says Steve Woolcock, Head of Employment, Training and Skills at Barnado’s.

It was really important to find a provider with a national reach, who was flexible about how, where and when learning happened, and could still provide a high level of learning material. And it had to be a partnership approach.

“We wanted somebody who was going to listen to us, was going to work with us and provide the flexibility of training and service that we needed,”

Steve Woolcock, Head of Employment, Training and Skills, Barnado’s.

Barnado’s had already been offering entry level apprenticeships for many years, and it wanted to use the Levy funding to extend its apprenticeship offering to include its existing workforce. In particular, it wanted to improve leadership and management capabilities. “They were looking to upskill existing staff in the leadership and management area and obviously our Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) was a really good fit for what they needed,” says Angela Gill, who oversees Third Sector relationships within the Business Development Unit at The Open University (OU). “In particular, the flexibility of our delivery really suited the dynamics of their workforce.”

Tony Sleight, team manager at Barnado’s, was offered a place on the programme shortly after being promoted into a new role. He says the learning has been challenging, but well worth it and the qualification will give his career prospects a real boost. “I didn’t do very well at school, if I’m honest. I have some GCSEs, but they’re not fantastic and I haven’t got any A-Levels. I’ve done some higher study since leaving school, kind of work based NVQs – my highest is an NVQ 4 in Management, which I achieved some years ago. It was a little bit of a shock when I was offered the CMDA, but a welcome surprise.”

Tony was concerned about fitting in his studies on top of his regular work and family commitments, but says it has been manageable. The support given by the OU and the flexibility have really helped. And Tony says he and his employer are already benefitting from what he has learnt and his self-development.

It’s opened my eyes up to elements of management that I hadn’t reflected upon previously, so my practice has already begun to develop. People within the team have commented on my progression and they’ve seen a change.

Tony Sleight, apprentice

Steve says the partnership is working really well and that the success is partly due to the OU’s input at the start of the process. Because Barnado’s workforce is spread out across the UK, the OU set up a webinar information session that all the potential learners could attend to establish if the apprenticeship programme was right for them. Angela says it is really important that there is a lot of communication early on so that potential apprentices understand what is involved, what will be expected of them and what support they will be given. Angela says it was a big challenge getting this information out to everyone, because it is such a large, geographically dispersed workforce, but it was critical to ensure the apprentices knew it was the right choice for them.

The CDMA programme has been so successful that Barnado’s is planning to increase the scope of its partnership with the OU. “We’re already having discussions about future steps in terms of what we’re going to be doing with the OU next because the structure works, the delivery works and the relationship works,” says Steve.

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