Is it time to overhaul how we assess and develop talent?

Following on from our blog on the potential perfect storm headed our way, we look at the UK Skills gap and how early careers can help.

With exams postponed and cancelled, is it time to reassess our talent development? Discussing this below are:

Simon Reichwald, Strategic Lead for Talent, MyKindaFuture

Katie Nightingale, People Consulting Manager, Grant Thornton

Chris Shirley, Apprentice Services Manager, Network Rail

In the second of our reflections on this perfect storm we turn our thoughts to the uncertainty around academic qualifications. Are we truly meeting the requirements of our apprentices and learners in the current climate? What will be the impact of these changes in the long term for the development of a skilled and productive workforce?

One of the most worrying aspects, particularly for those in education, has been the all but complete cancellation of academic assessment through examination. Consequently, are apprenticeships the most robust assessment of qualifications for 2020?

The changing requirement of qualifications

Prior qualifications (GCSEs, A Levels, degree classification) have for years dictated an individual’s access to opportunities. The evidence in recent years is that this is changing. 5 years ago, 75% of graduate recruiters set a 2.1 degree classification as a barrier to apply. Today, it is just 57% (and only 16% use UCAS points as a minimum requirement).

Anecdotal evidence shows us that over the past 5 years whilst graduate recruitment has remained fairly constant there has been a significant increase in the recruitment of apprentices, particularly at level 3 and more recently at level 6. This reflects both the changing nature of both business requirements and early careers choices. ISE data supports this, which shows that since the introduction of the levy, there was a 50% increase in apprenticeship recruitment in 2017/18, and a further increase of 47% in 2018/19.

It is also true to say that strength based recruitment is on the rise, with 50% of Early Talent recruiters adopting this approach. Furthermore, 69% use a mix of strength and competency based hiring strategies, as more and more employers seek to look beyond academic achievement, and focus on the whole person.

Many consultancy firms have already abolished entry qualifications for apprentices and graduate roles. There’s evidence to show that those who would not have ordinarily been successful at the shortlisting stage under the previous criteria, are now performing at the same or higher level to those who would have been successful then.

Assessment centres

In the current climate, the traditional assessment centres, with group tasks, Q&A sessions and face to face interviews are simply not possible. Whilst many organisations have used qualifications as initial sift criteria, followed by assessment centres for strength based selection, there is now a fundamental challenge to this.

Assessment centres are used by 94% of graduate recruiters, and 80% of school leaver apprentice recruiters. A huge 90% of them report it as an effective way to select the right candidate. The next most effective, at just 33%, was face to face interviews. Therefore what can be done to make it equally as effective when done virtually?

Virtual strength-based selection

We still don’t know what academic grading will produce for those students who have been unable to sit final year examinations. This will make strength-based recruitment selection more important, to get the right match for roles and organisations. However, how can this be done effectively if you can’t assess a candidate’s body language, or pick up on the non-verbal signals often seen in face to face selections?

This may also disadvantage those from a lower socio-economic background, as more affluent students may have a head start with virtual assessments due to greater access to tech in a comfortable, private environment. Therefore, how do we level the playing field if using virtual assessments more often? According to the ONS, 93% of households have internet access and 66% have mobile internet access. That still leaves a significant minority who potentially do not have access to our now main communication channel.

Overcoming virtual challenges

Getting your selection process right is more important than ever, due to the nature of exam grades this year. This is another reason to move away from grades as a ‘barrier’ to hire, and if that assessment is critical, then the only qualifications that will be formally assessed (through EPAs) this year are apprenticeships!

It will be interesting to see in coming years whether the class of 2020 proves to be identifiable within the workplace, or whether they fade into the crowd.

How will new hires be trained and developed?

Firstly, has the pivot to digital delivery has been too fast? Can you say that every learner has had the same experience, opportunity to participate, or the same tools?

When it comes to remote working, employers have proved themselves to be super agile and flexible. However, have we been less flexible with our apprentices? Has training begun and ended at rigid, set times?

Have the multiple ways of learning been reflected in the move to digital? How engaged have your apprentices been on this journey to all virtual learning? Can you be more flexible for those with less access to tech, and different learning styles?

Secondly, what support have they had to adapt to new ways of learning? Am earlier conversation we had with a Head of Early Talent resonated –

“It’s not great tech I need (although that matters). It is ensuring the training programme is delivered to all my diverse talent with maximum effectiveness and impact.”

The effectiveness of digital learning

Many apprentices say the pivot to digital learning was useful and welcomed, but as remote learning becomes more embedded, there’s a realisation it may become the norm. Certainly, it reduces the cost to businesses with less travel & expenses, and less time lost to attend courses.

However, a distance learning course was not chosen because many people learn as much from the other course delegates during breakouts, discussions and group working. Is the benefit of others’ experience something that we’re losing out on during digital delivery?

In face to face environments, different learning styles are taken into account automatically during the duration of a course. With virtual delivery, how are your providers meeting different learning preferences through a laptop screen?

A blended approach

We believe that employers and providers need to be working to a true blended approach to learning that flexes with their needs. This will increase the opportunities available to more people, which will allow learning to fit with their lives. Whether they are a carer, have physical limitations that prevent them from being present at certain times, or their access to the right tools is limited.

Finally, have you considered those with additional learning needs? In a face to face environment quick interventions are possible, but this is not so easy when delivering remotely.

There is no doubt that the impact of Covid-19 will have far reaching repercussions on the delivery of apprenticeship programmes. Therefore, we must remember that the ultimate success is not in how a programme is delivered, but how successful the learners are.

Takeaway considerations

1)    How will you recruit those that are a best fit to your business if traditional routes are no longer available?

2)    How confident are you that your current/recently revised recruitment systems work without face to face interaction?

3)    In a virtual world, are your recruitment and training systems inclusive to all?

4)    Are the right skills being developed at entry level within the UK?

5)    How will you support & develop apprentices, graduates and new starters with a more ‘remote’ working model?