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Theme 8: Responding to COVID 19

The economic and social costs of the COVID 19 crisis have been well documented. Specifically within the European automotive sector the crisis has significantly impacted on output, working practices and skill requirements. 

What is less well documented is the impact the crisis has had on apprenticeships. However, available evidence points to a major impact on apprenticeship in terms of both delivery and take-up. 

Prior to the COVID 19 outbreak apprenticeship delivery was typically characterised by a high level of learning on the job, in the workplace, including learning by shadowing staff or gaining practical skills from a colleague. At the same time, different apprenticeship stages such as enrolment, progress reviews and assessment have traditionally involved face to face contact with tutors [1]

During periods of lockdown imposed as a result of COVID 19 this traditional approach has not been possible, with all delivery having to change to an online approach. For some apprenticeship providers and employers this has proved a major challenge, while for others, this transition has been somewhat easier [2]. In particular: 

  • For those already providing a blended delivery approach  - a mixture of classroom and e learning – this has involved the transfer of part of their delivery on line, but;
  • For those not already adopting a blended learning approach this has involved changing all processes and the rapid adoption of brand-new digital systems.

The implications of COVID 19 in relation to the delivery of apprenticeships has gone far beyond just the digital delivery of learning material, but has also led to the introduction of a range of other methods such as electronic signature technology, video conferencing e-mail, phone and shared electronic documents to ensure effective collaboration between apprentices, employers and training providers [3]

The increased focus on on-line delivery methods has also led to an increase in the need for associated support for apprentices without computer access such as the provision of Google Chrome books or iPads by training providers [4].

There is some evidence that the changes in apprenticeship delivery methods prompted by the outbreak of COVID 19 have led to a change in attitudes to remote delivery for some learners and tutors, away from a focus on cutting costs to a recognition of how this approach can enhance the quality of learning through more regular interaction between students and tutors through techniques such as bite-size interactive digital content and reflective video diaries [5].

In April 2020, Cedefop community of apprenticeship experts [6] took the initiative to launch an internal consultation about how European countries are managing apprenticeships under the current global health emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis. Key messages from the resulting report [7] include the following:
  • All countries are making efforts to keep up with learning at education and training providers, while they are closed and to maintain the contracts with the companies 
  • Distance learning, however, is piecemeal
  • A critical role is played by teachers and by collaboration at school-company level in ensuring training continuity 
  • Apprentices have largely discontinued their company attendance in the sectors whose activities have been shut down 

In order to capture the variety of VET initiatives that have been undertaken acrossthe EU in response to COVID, the European Commission launched an online survey in March 2020 [8]. Some of the key findings are summarised as follows:
  • All countries are setting up online environments, ranging from using very simple messaging services such as WhatsApp (e.g. when learners do not have a computer at home) or through other more elaborate IT learning platforms, or even using national television for broadcasting and replacing usual classroom lessons. 
  • Some countries have developed TV and YouTube channels for learners to follow general and VET lessons. Teachers and trainers record their lessons on video and broadcast them.
  • Work based learning is maintained in only very few countries and in sectors where companies’ activities are still going on; 
  • Although on the positive side the COVID 19 crisis has provided an opportunity for everyone to develop or deepen their digital skills, it has also underlined the digital divide and the inequality and disadvantage this creates for households and learners that do not have access to computers and Internet.
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