QA Talent Lab: Jan 2018

“Apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships” – what many a person involved in learning will have been hearing about for the last couple of years.  Yet the changes in England (that took place last May) are still really to bed down and the audience in the room for this event obviously had mixed perceptions still.  This variation is, in part, due to the variety of ‘traditional’ roles impacted by the changes and the room was clearly a mix of corporate HR generalists, L&D practitioners, apprenticeship specific staff, QA’s team, etc.

Both client case studies (Capgemini and Royal Mail) made it clear that for apprenticeships to be a success you really need a wide variety of people involved to be a success – and both cases showed CEO/leadership commitment was key due to the fundamental change apprenticeships are for many organisations.

In the evening after this event I had dinner with my family and it was interesting to explain the levy to my dad (who worked for Royal Mail for many years and was, once upon a time pre-RM, an apprentice) and my brother who is now based in New Zealand.  The levy immediately made sense to my dad – “well the companies used to pay for them” and that shift of responsibility for skills development really is what it is all about to me.  It’s time to stop complaining about the skills shortages and actually do something about it – in combination with school partnerships, innovative qualifications, etc etc.

This was my first (the 3rd overall) Talent Lab event (around 60 people in attendance) and it was a really useful day in the current ‘bedding down’ period of the new apprenticeship rules.  The main items from the TL agenda were as below, with some of my rough notes and reflections as bullets below.

  1. Why? Creating the business case and understanding the context we work in.
    Rebecca Plant: Head of Apprentice Solutions, QA

    1. This focused on the ‘why?’ of taking on apprenticeships and introduced some QA resources around “10 killer questions to kick-start your apprenticeship programme”.
    2. In summary it came down to “is this a good use of my time?”: for the apprentice and the company – both need to be getting out of what want, i.e. skill development to solve business issues.  Not about spending levy for the sake of spending levy (hopefully people are not in that mindset but no doubt some companies will be).
    3. Expect quality of apprenticeship to be increasingly the focus, with data to back that up, now the Institute for Apprenticeships is up and running.
  2. Royal Mail Group – Why it matters to us.
    Gareth Jones

    1. 1:185 people employed in the UK work for the RM group (160,000 total) so huge levy fee but also huge opportunity.
    2. RM have put together a small team (5 people) to develop apprenticeship offer, to increase capability in-house whilst changing culture as potentially means big increase in young people in the workforce and opportunity to tackle issues such as low % of BAME representation in workforce.
    3. Currently they have c.100 apprentices (this was good to hear from my perspective as we’re not too far off that number yet with a much smaller workforce).
    4. CEO had committed to all vacancies being apprenticeships – has scaled back slightly now to “all relevant” roles.
    5. They have worked with the unions to get them on side – unions recognizing this is a potential way for RM to massively invest in their members.
    6. Challenges include non-England workforce (c.15%) and developing comparable options (again similar to us).  Also missing suitable standards and EPA orgs in some areas.
    7. Again similar to my experience, they have been through procurement challenges and now balancing QA with other providers, trying to manage nationally where (historically) it was a mixed bag of some regions being engaged with colleges, some not at all, etc.
    8. Some really interesting figures were shown, that I don’t think I had seen before, that showed how strong the 25+ age group is in apprentice start numbers.  Will be useful to reuse to try and finish off that misconception internally.
  3. Executing the Why?
    Anouska Ramsay: Talent Director, Capgemini

    1. A longer history, with apprentices a focus pre-levy.  Basically have managed to move away from graduate heavy hiring schemes to more of a balance with apprentices as a leading organisation in development of degree apprenticeships.
    2. Again a lot of drive was from CEO – aim to re-onboard roles to UK, via apprentices, as way to avoid skills gap and decrease reliance on India.
    3. Looked at the wide range of people that need to be involved, including:
      1. learning and development (be ambassadors for the programmes),
      2. business teams (finance and line managers particularly key),
      3. students (i.e. need to ‘sell’ that apprenticeships are a good thing, not only for men, not about trades but also highly skilled IT roles, etc),
      4. HR (how formalize pay, progressions, etc – as rules change ensure stay in line).
    4. Started small with 24 in 2011.  The big ‘sell’ was that it is a debt free way into work.  Now c.380 on programme(s).  Had a team of 2 to support, now 4/5.  Business deals with pastoral care but escalate to them as needed.
    5. Admitted some pain points – like one total misuse of an AMEX by an apprentice (leading to major policy rewrite) but overall a success.
    6. Recommend attendees get involved so everyone’s voice is heard, e.g. with “apprenticeship boards” – she is on digital (, although trailblazer groups are difficult!
    7. Retention is good but do loose some, in part as realize not the career for them and just move to different role internally – first degree cohort had 50% graduate.
    8. Not just about degrees for them – also, for example, Level 4 cyber.
    9. Realized need to “constantly evolve recruitment” – still have grad programme but have clear “two doors into organisation”.  Find grads tend to have more life experience than new apprentice but apprentices up-to-speed in c.6 months.  Selection still done in-house rather than using training provider.
    10. To achieve the EPA standard they use internal job rotations.
  4. Data & the Why?
    Discussion & Networking

    1. A considerations of data requirements, on my table this included:
      1. what we need to capture for targets/government.
      2. what we can do to ensure recruitment correct and then people are competent to deliver the role.
      3. how to measure financial savings, for example from staff and agency cost savings.  Interesting point here about making apprentices non-location specific and brought in expecting to move locations.  Then can be used to fill holes – if they are a project management apprentice, business admin support, etc.
      4. to avoid resistance to “grow our own”, for example in high skilled IT roles, be harsh: reduce budgets for contractors to force apprenticeships.
      5. track as cost vs offshore vs alternative (agency, contractor, etc).
      6. how measure utilization of apprentice – i.e. track what doing in the 80% not just 20% to demonstrate value.
    2. The round robin of tables, predictably, got onto ROI.  I thought it very interesting that, of all companies, the Microsoft attendee (58 current apprentices) shot this down quite quickly: instead saying their focus is on the opportunity it offers for people and the impact/benefit on people will come from those case studies as numbers grow.
      1. Speed to productivity was another measure brought into conversations.
      2. Another table (perhaps drilled in the way of KP) mentioned “indicators” and the need to both reflect and keep across in real time a number of metrics to show benefits – including retention.
      3. There was also the view that year one is always going to be hard and generally companies get better in support of apprentices as time goes on.
    3. Sticking points around the room included getting organisations to be better at workforce planning and HR systems that are not built for the kind of data that is useful to track on apprenticeships.
  5. BAME apprenticeships
    1. Presentation from Isa Mutlib of the Asian Apprenticeship Awards and BAME Apprenticeship Alliance on the continuing misconceptions in BAME communities and the impact (i.e. low take up) on apprenticeships.
    2. Another area with big opportunities: with the groups currently underrepresented yet a bigger part of under 18 group than previously so should be an increasingly important demographic for early career hires.
    3. Are lots of other focus areas that crossover – such as Women in STEM, Women in Tech, etc.  Overall familiar messages about needing to break some stigmas, better inform career choices and break obsession with universities as main route to work.


Unusually I was quite looking forward to BETT this year.  The usual trepidation ahead of fighting through slow-moving crowds perhaps tempered by knowing I wasn’t doing “the new year double-header” with Learning Technologies:

The positive vibes for BETT were perhaps also coming from some hope regarding a new ‘learning space’ in our HQ that would need fitting out with appropriate tech.  So, whilst I used to always ignore the ‘physical’ classroom stuff at the show, this year I found myself drawn to wipe clean glass desks, chewing gum resistant tables and laptop trolleys.  All in all it was quite an eye opener checking out some stuff that I’ve only really had a passing interest in over the years.

There were only a few seminars I had earmarked as worth attending so it was to ExCeL I went with the usual expectation that making it around the show floor would take most of the day – the particular sessions I did attend are reflected on below.  Also some general notes from the floor:

General thoughts from the floor

One of the major criticisms of BETT is that it is the hungry pigs at the trough of school spending/funding.  So soon after the Carillion collapse this perhaps stood out even more this year – with Capita and Microsoft probably having the biggest stalls to show quite how much of a “market” education now is.  Of course this is a little harsh on Microsoft who are often playing the long game in getting kids and uni students used to their tools on the cheap so they then query employers as to why they are still using Excel 2010 and/or Apple and/or Google.  I’m totally one of those suckers…

…pretty sure I said something similar about discussion boards in c.2004.  There’s also plenty of big ‘learning’ players at BETT – working across BETT (for schools), HE, workplace and more – such as Techsmith, Kaltura, Canvas, Claro, D2L, McGrawhill and 3M.

I attended a few bits and bobs on other stalls, including a good one on the Microsoft stand considering PISA and the future competencies learning professionals need to be supporting:


Anyways, whatever your political persuasion and thoughts on capitalism’s influence on the classroom its likely you would still look twice at the presence of the Russian, UAE and other nations’ stalls.  They seemed more pronounced (to me at least) this year but I probably think that every year.  That said, the French stall had a few interesting startups and a pleasant amount of stereotyping in the branding:



Overall I fleetingly pass stalls when in BETT, in part as I don’t have a particular budget I’m looking to spend, some reflections from this year’s wander:

  • Whiteboards, screens, etc – 4K seems to have given this area a boost although a session I started to watch (facilitated by two wonderfully confident early teens) soon turned into the usual Smart farce when the software wasn’t working properly.  Still feels like a software-lite solution is best in this space so one less thing can go wrong (even if Tango and others seem to have nice additional software) – one of the worse inventions ever was the Smart TV turning a previously immediate boot device into something that has to ‘load’, update and crash.  I was though intrigued by a few claims related to “eye care tech” built into devices.
  • Laptop safety – as mentioned above, device security is potentially going to be of interest to me in coming months so it was interesting to see how the tech in this space has developed with an array of tablet-friendly lock and charge systems – as well as wireless/contact less charging.  Wireless charging remains, for me at least, still slightly magical yet the sowed it is very much deployed and ‘in the real world’.
  • GDPR was out in force with some data regulation, hosting/protection suppliers having (literally) stuck it on as an additional to their stall’s advertising.  The impact on education was also in a number of magazine and flyer takeaways.  Presumably, as with other industries, there will be a lot of people failing to prepare for this and others cashing in on the general misunderstandings and malaise.
  • VR seems to be developing along but still seems of most use where there are clear experiences to be gained – the idea of experiencing a WWI trench in VR sounded intriguing and akin to the use for highlighting the issues Syria faces: .  I’m torn on if we would ever want ‘rapid’ VR authoring or if that will open the floodgates to awful VR in the way PPT to SCORM converters did for eLearning.  Although templated AR might be useful?
  • LMS.  You would think in a school environment that the LMS/VLE would be a central tool.  However, you still get the feeling that Google for Education and Office 365 are central (on the authoring and deployment side) with student information systems the data coal face.  Perhaps due to budgets, it is seems increasingly that another (LM) system isn’t a priority – perhaps as schools will also be face-to-face focused in the first instance.  Also there seemed to be growing numbers of add-ons to 365 (such as that do some of the job).
  • Mobile: Nice to see that, at least some, classrooms and taking advantage of students carrying powerful devices with them by leveraging them in the pedagogy – for example with: and
  • (for context sensitive employee performance support on systems) and a few others looked less ‘BETT-y’ and perhaps more suited for the LT show.  TootToot for feedback/safeguarding would also have uses outside of the target school models and they are apparently working on an enterprise version.  Similarly Derventio’s performance management tools were clearly suitable outside of the school market – but, as always, do you want integrated HRM or multiple systems?
  • Furniture: a few worthy mentions for interesting products – Mirplay, Learniture, Freedesk, Folio, Wall Art and, surprising to see at the show, John Lewis (for Business).
  • AI: wasn’t as obvious as might have been expected.  No doubt many of the publishers (even Britannica who were celebrating their 250 anniversary) are working this in and there are other products out there like
  • As well as the usual programming, robots and other cool stuff:


Talk 1: National College for High Speed Rail on the 4th industrial revolution

Didn’t really feel like it went anywhere this one (perhaps ironically considering the home org of the presenter).  Useful I guess if people were not aware of the ‘IR4’ buzz/argument but with little direct applicability beyond a call to the attendees to be innovative.

Basically argued that the college is set up, via apprenticeships and innovative approaches, to tackle modern workplace challenges.  Yet I thought that whilst it is all well and good that this new style of college exists to “disrupt” – the use of new tech in “everything we do” sounds a little like setting itself up to fail (or at least retract when budgets are cut in the future).  Interesting bits like their use of Azure for combining data didn’t sound like they were too ‘new’ – instead leading to early warning indicators like Starfish and other solutions have in the past.

Talk 2: Leading a digital learning strategy

An impressive school turnaround story from a headteacher who put digital at the heart of the school approach.  Really a rare cultural success story with a successful 1-2-1 device programme.

Tips for success were not surprising but good to see a success story for once:

  • Sustainable, not one-off investment
  • Don’t expect tech to make life (i.e. teaching) easier: just different
  • Tech rich, not paper free: still room for outdoor learning, physical science, drawing, etc.
  • Used what was right for them: Chromebooks and GSuite
  • Staged roll-out: staff with pupils so learning together over a three years (not a complete ‘big bang’)
  • Used distance learning software and techniques when relevant (and when needed like school snow days):  including having people collaborate in the same room but at different desks, i.e. get pupils used to workplace digital collaboration style remote working
  • Google Sites for ePortfolio allows for parents to be more involved with the demo of work and outcomes
  • Continuous feedback on teachers via Google Forms to allow iterative improvement.

What was pleasing was the trust evidently put in pupils, with low-level web filtering and pupils allowed to ‘own’ their device.

Still clearly a way to go – for example, they are looking at audio feedback (even though that was well embedded when I worked in HE c. 10 years ago).  I hadn’t seen the immediate feedback available in the education version of Duolingo which looked quite good.

Overall, inspiring and the point made that a lack of IT teacher/department hasn’t held them back – and has probably helped as it means shared ownership in their culture – is probably as revealing about failed projects elsewhere as anything.

Talk 3: GDPR

A decent session that made the point that GDPR is a major issue for schools and that one reason why it is tricky is that it is really made up of three equal parts: cyber security, data protection and information governance that had, previously, been developing separately and experts find difficult to cut across.

Unfortunately were in a world of pretty terrifying stuff – like one school who were targeted by a phishing attack and parents then lost £150k in paying fraudsters a fake school charge.  A key point here being that the processing activity is key – e.g. it’s not IT’s responsibility but rather the user (such as HR teams as they hold personal data).

Getting onto Windows 10 was identified as an easy step to improve compliance and that everyone needs to be clear where they are on meeting requirements – with a way forward plan by the introduction in May – rather than compliant from day one.

Talk 4: Digital transformation

More a summary from the Ludic Group on changes in the last 20 years and some ongoing trends:



Nothing major here unless, perhaps, people entered disagreeing with his “digital changes everything” mantra and had their heads turned or, indeed (and this is a possibility as the Q&A question was “what is blended learning?”[!!]), eyes opened.