Measures have included making the most of technology and new kit, while some firms have taken on new apprentices to meet increased demand for services.

Encouraging creativity

Keeping apprentices engaged, with a focus on their well-being, has been a priority for many of the employers who have been able to operate through COVID-19 restrictions, including leading aerospace, defence and security technology firm, Leonardo.

Leonardo has taken a proactive approach to the coronavirus pandemic, working early-on to procure additional remote working infrastructure such as laptops and secure network bandwidth to allow apprentices to work from home. They are being encouraged to stay in touch via a variety of digital channels, in place of the face-to-face meetings they will be more used to.

As a result, all of Leonardo’s Apprentices passed their modules with flying colours – most with A grades – with most Graduate Apprentices passing their year with distinction.

Safeguarding well being

Leonardo’s UK Head of Apprenticeship Management, Deborah Soley explained: “We issued our Apprentices with a bank of personal development courses and continued to work with them on their SVQs. We also made sure their managers were supported to be able to work effectively with apprentices remotely.

“Our main concern was to make sure our apprentices were supported and continued to feel part of the Leonardo community, as many had moved to Edinburgh specifically to join us and so we had a responsibility to safeguard their wellbeing.”

Keeping the apprentices engaged included an innovative project to support the community during lockdown. Deborah explained: “To get them working together, we asked apprentices to create and film simple but fun STEM exercises while at home, which were shared on our UK website and social media channels to in turn support children with their home schooling.”

Further recruitment

The Leonardo site has now moved on to shift patterns, with apprentices being re-integrated into the workplace.

The way its apprentices have quickly adapted to new ways of working and learning has been a source of pride for the company. Deborah said: “Our apprentices have demonstrated great resilience in the way they’ve adapted to their new working environment and their commitment to their studies has been reflected in these outstanding results. We’ve also appreciated the strong partnerships we’ve forged with local colleges and universities, which have been vital during this period.”

Despite the lockdown, Leonardo is continuing to invest in apprenticeships, adopting a new online recruitment process which will see another 26 apprentices join the business in the coming months.

Driving innovation

The Learning and Development team within Dawnfresh Seafoods played a vital role to ensure the progression of the company’s Foundation, Modern and Graduate apprentices was not negatively impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

The Uddingston based company, which is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of fish and seafood, believes the pandemic has helped it become more innovative in the way it supports and assesses apprentices.

The team had to make adjustments to its assessment strategy to ensure it observed all guidelines relating to COVID-19 and kept its employees safe.

Blended learning

Dawnfresh introduced social distancing, face covering and visors where appropriate, and also looked at technology to support the apprentices, encouraging them to complete work on computers to reduce the amount of paperwork being passed around by hand.

The business also had Modern Apprentices who were furloughed and it used a blended learning approach to enable them to continue their skills development, which included the creation of online learning resources and assessments.

Dawnfresh Graduate Apprentices were supported by university partners to ensure they were set up and able to successfully complete the academic year.

Dawnfresh Learning and Development Manager, Kristy Reynolds said: “As a business we believe apprenticeships at all levels add tremendous value and we will continue to support the apprenticeship frameworks.

“We have continued to work closely with all our partners including SDS, taking advice and guidance on the best ways to proceed.”

Kristy added: “The big take away for us, is that the food and drink industry has proven that its people are resilient and committed to delivering great products and, in turn, we are committed to providing sustainable development opportunities for our employees.”

Dawnfresh has two new Graduate Apprentices this year and the universities have ensured all their onboarding has been as straight forward as possible to start the year through distance learning.

Supporting growth

Another leading seafood company, Mowi, has had to recruit more Modern Apprentices to support growth as a result of the pandemic.

The business, which is based in Rosyth, is taking on a further seven apprentices in IT, Business Administration and Engineering and plans to take on more to deal with a range of challenges including an ageing workforce.

Mowi’s Learning and Development Manager, Donald Waring explained: “There was huge demand for our products in the supermarkets at the start of lockdown. Initially, it was like our Christmas season and we found that many people were trying our salmon for the first time and liking it, which has led to repeat buying and continued growth.

“We see apprentices as an important part of managing the growth and also ensuring the business develops its talent for a successful future.”

Essential workers

Similar to Dawnfresh, Mowi’s employees are classed as essential workers who have continued to supply the nation during the pandemic.

As a result, the company had to put in place further adaptations across all its workplace environments to support current apprentices and the wider workforce.

Donald said: “We have always had to have a sterilised environment but now we are COVID secure and have installed shields, screens, sanitisers, provided training and implemented other measures to comply with the guidelines. We’ve already introduced the desks for our future apprentices, to ensure that they are coming into a safe working environment from day one on the job.”

Adapting quickly

Most of Diageo’s apprentices have continued to work on sites throughout the pandemic due to the rigorous protocols that were put in place to protect its people’s health and well-being and, according to the global alcohol beverage company’s Early Careers Specialist, Gillian Dalziel, they have adapted quickly to the changes.

Gillian explained: “Our first year apprentices are in college full time and we worked with the different colleges to make sure they were set up for online learning and assessment.

“One to one training for our operator apprentices based on-sites was paused, but with support of line managers they had the opportunity to work in office based environments where strict social distancing measures were in place. They got involved in various offline activities and projects, which provided a different learning experience and exposure to other areas of the business, such as Planning and Maintenance and helped to widen their professional networks. It also enabled them to take more ownership for their learning and have autonomy around managing their workload, which has resulted in them building stronger relationships with their teams.”

Continued investment

Gillian added: “All our apprentices have embraced the changes. The safety and well being of our people across our business has always been and remains our top priority and supporting everyone to adapting to changes in ways of working has been important.

“It’s clear that young people feel comfortable with online technology and it’s an essential way for them to communicate, stay connected and access information, so feedback from apprentices suggests that our new approach hasn’t taken long for them to adapt.”

The company is also about to welcome a further 13 engineering Modern Apprentices and devised a new online recruitment process to ensure it continued to invest in more talent during the pandemic.

Future proofing through apprenticeships

Gillian explained: “Apprenticeships are critical to the success of our business, particularly within engineering, as we focus on having the skills for the future to address different technologies.

“We have invested greatly in our current apprentices and were determined to give them the support they needed to help them succeed and continue to progress.

“It was vital that those who were due to complete their apprenticeships finished their exams to ensure we had qualified employees whilst it is important that those across all other year groups didn’t fall behind.

“We committed to take on more apprentices because it’s essential in our strategy to future proof the business.”