VocTech Specialist 2019: Planning for Post-Pandemic

Understanding the impact Covid-19 has had on their projects
People waving on a group video call.

The VocTech Specialist 2019 funding call was introduced to support the challenges facing vocational skills training and learning due to the changing nature of work. Through the call, Ufi wanted to uncover how digital technology could bridge the gap between the skills that employers want and the skills that employees need.

The projects that received a grant through this funding call clearly identified ways to use digital technology to reskill adults to ensure that their skills remain relevant, reskill people in work to enable transition into new sectors, or provide a route into work. 

Caroline O’Donnell, Project Account Manager for Ufi VocTech Trust and cohort manager of VocTech Specialist 2019, explains more about this work...

being handed a golden ticket of opportunity as the demand for digital accelerates

On Thursday 16th  July the VocTech Specialist 2019 cohort gathered for an online workshop. This was an important regroup as the cohort start to understand the impact Covid-19 has had on their projects. 

Some have had to take a pause while they wait for the world to settle, or to focus on other priorities. Some have found themselves being handed a golden ticket of opportunity as the demand for digital accelerates.  The challenge of this funding call is to address the changing nature of work – but none of the projects quite expected it to change to this extent! 

Normally workshops are a chance to meet face to face, which brings lots of opportunities for ease of conversation - often bringing unexpected connections and the reassurance of shared experience. With this in mind we created an agenda which allowed plenty of time for discussion in smaller groups in breakout rooms. We encouraged sharing of positive experiences which other projects could learn from, and reflection on how they had managed to keep focused on their goals despite the challenges of the last few months. What we couldn’t recreate was the chance to share an array of lovely cakes as we did at our last workshop in Sheffield back in early March. 

A common theme throughout the discussions was that although several projects have had to re-engage with new partners, the people they have reached out to are very keen to support and be involved. It was clear that the time taken to develop a clarity of vision and clear goals through the discovery and project planning process really helped when they had to reach out to new organisations. Also discussed was the need to keep an open mind and recognise the value that partners can give, rather than being too rigid. There was also recognition to the value of gathering the right people around you with skills and expertise to create a supportive and effective project team – to recognise and fill the gaps. 

Another item on the agenda was the impact of change on the projects – will changes they made still be valid in the future? How will they ensure they remain open to change whilst keeping their eye on the goal? 

One revelation was from a project who realised that whilst they had a clear written scope, their interpretations of it differed, which lead to an impromptu ‘assumption made meeting’ where they unpicked this and were able to move forward confident they were now all on the same page. Another referred to the importance of dealing with the ‘Elephant in the Zoom…’ (I think I heard that right!) 

There was also time for reflection on learners, what is going on in their world, and how recent changes impact on their engagement with the projects and a new digital solution. It was clear that everyone was very aware that there were many other factors that could be at play – people are worried about their jobs, or looking for work in a more challenging and difficult environment, whilst also dealing with additional domestic pressures and potential digital overload. The difficult to reach and vulnerable may well be even more difficult to reach now - we should take time to understand this and ensure we are still creating solutions which will make a difference to their vocational skills and opportunities for work placement and advancement. 

All of our projects certainly have a lot of change ahead, but it is clear that the VocTech Specialist 2019 cohort has the resilience and skills to meet whatever comes next. The team at Ufi are continually impressed at the passion and drive we see, and we very much look forward to seeing the end results of all their hard work.

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