SQA Apprentices log in to new skills

Starting a new job can be a daunting prospect - especially if it is your first experience of working life, and you are unable to meet your new colleagues in person.Woman working from home

Acknowledging this, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) recently took a creative approach to recruiting the latest intake of six young people to its Modern Apprenticeship programme. The result has been that, despite working remotely since joining Scotland's national awarding and accreditation body, the Modern Apprentices have been able to thrive in their new roles.

SQA's commitment to developing the young workforce was behind its decision to not only continue with recruitment, but to add a new strand to their development programme - one with no academic or prior work experience entry criteria. The result was a fully inclusive and accessible opportunity for all young people aged between 16 and 19, and up to 29 for care-experienced young people.

Making the programme accessible was key from the outset, with measures put in place to help guide applicants through the interview process. This saw existing SQA Modern Apprentices having informal online meetings with shortlisted candidates, to help them prepare for a 'virtual' interview.

Dawnne Mahmoud, Director of People at SQA, says forward planning was needed to create a foundation on which the new apprentices could build on their skills and confidence.

Dawnne explains: "We developed a six-week series of virtual workshops to equip the new apprentices with core skills necessary in the world of work, and which will help them as they undertake their Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) in Business and Administration. Our apprentices also have access to online resources, which highlight the importance of mental health, and self-care.

"Throughout their induction, our apprentices have had regular video calls with colleagues in their business areas, as well as with their Mentors, their Line Managers and members of SQA's Executive Team.

"We are very proud of the creativity shown by all those involved in our Modern Apprenticeship recruitment and induction process, and of our new apprentices for embracing opportunities to learn and make connections, at a time when distance has become the norm."

Modern Apprentice Robbie King says that getting to know his new colleagues, albeit via video calls, was key to his positive start to working life.

Robbie adds: "My first few weeks as an SQA Modern Apprentice have been amazing. Despite working from home, the communication from my team has been excellent and has helped me gain new skills. There are so many people to talk to, including Mentors, 'Buddies', and Line Managers - it almost feels like I'm in the office!"

Over the coming year, Robbie and his fellow apprentices will work towards achieving an SVQ, which will prove to future employers that their skills meet a national standard.

Sarah-Anne Rooney, SQA Employee Development Programme Manager, says that working in partnership with Claire McCallum of training provider RT Resources, has allowed apprentices to progress with their SVQ.

Sarah Anne adds: "Claire and the team have enabled our apprentices to continue capturing relevant evidence for their qualification.

"Together we have supported our apprentices  - and their Line Managers, and Mentors - to move forward with a programme that is conducive to remote working."

Claire McCallum acknowledges that there are challenges in some sectors, but adds that for many Modern Apprentices, undertaking their SVQ remotely has presented them with opportunities to develop new and existing skills.

Claire says: "These skills include resilience, team working, adaptability and creative thinking. They have had to take more responsibility for managing their work, with the result that they have probably developed in ways they might not otherwise have done."

Leah Canning, who has been an SQA Modern Apprentice for over a year, says that the move to remote working was challenging at first but adds: "If anything, it has taught me to be resilient in situations that are out with my control, a skill that I will use in everyday life."

Fellow apprentice Josh Millan says: "I helped with the recruiting of the new Modern Apprentices as I was on the informal interview panel - this gave me skills which will benefit me wherever my career takes me in the future."

As an employer offering work-based qualifications, SQA recognises the importance of supporting businesses and training providers to deliver them safely. SQA is working with sector bodies to minimise the impact of the pandemic on candidates' learning and SQA Account Managers are in regular contact with training providers.

Information on the SQA qualifications that underpin Modern Apprenticeships, Foundation Apprenticeships, and Graduate Apprenticeships, can be found at www.sqa.org.uk/apprenticeships.