How do you do work-based learning, when you can’t get to your workplace?

September 6, 2021 - Shelagh McLachlan

What is work based learning?

Work based learning is exactly what is says, learning while you work. The work-based team assess Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ). These SVQs can be part of a modern apprenticeship or they can be completed on their own. SVQ is a programme of assessment so you are not “taught” in a classroom, your need to provide evidence of what you are doing and learning in your job, which is judged against the National Occupational Standards. The SVQ qualifications range from scqf level 5 to scqf level 10.  Work based learning can be highly beneficial for students and employers. Students get the chance to develop their knowledge and skills in a real-life context, while employers get the opportunity to shape that development while meeting their immediate and future workforce needs.

How many students do we have?

The student number fluctuates all the time because we do not work exclusively within an academic year. Students enrol and complete all the time. Currently there are approximately 800 students enrolled for work based SVQ programmes.

In this last year there were also approximately 350 HNC students and 15 foundation apprentice students over and above the work based students who have recently completed

How many employers do we work with?

The team works with all sizes of company from the one micro businesses like cafes, small independent hairdressers and garages to local authorities and large businesses. I would say just now the team work with between 380-400 different employers.

How long do students study with us?

That is difficult to predict. Most can take a year to 18 months.

A lot of students are doing SVQ as part of their modern apprenticeships (MA). The full MA can take 3 or 4 years depending on the other content e.g. the construction MA takes 4 years as they apprentices must be “time served”. The MA consists of the SVQ, PDA and 5 core skills.

How do we recruit new students?

Recruitment happens in several ways.  There is a lot of return business with companies that have worked in partnership with the College for many years, and new companies tend to approach the assessors or the relevant curriculum areas – this is particularly relevant for engineering and automotive. The apprenticeship team also deal with enquiries across all campuses and all sectors, and of course, individuals enquire either via the website or by phone. The apprenticeships team actively support some local businesses with their recruitment for the apprenticeship programme.

Success rates

Success rates are generally high within the work-based team and are often above 90%. Most students accessing SVQs have made a decision to follow that career path and are committed to achieving the qualification to support their job. The main reasons for people not being successful is that they leave their job to do something else or life generally gets in the way of them progressing. The SVQ programmes are flexible so the team can offer “holidays from assessment” if needed where students are having difficult times. This has been quite noticeable over the last year or so due to Covid.

How many assessor does the college employ?

There are 24 assessors right now.

Engineering – there are seven assessors in total and they cover all aspects of engineering including mechanical, maintenance, fabrication and welding, electrical, automotive engineering, aeronautical engineering, process manufacturing. This is the largest area by far for the modern apprenticeship programme.

Automotive – there are two assessors and they assess both heavy and light vehicle pathways.

Health & Social Care – There are six assessors currently and they cover social services and healthcare, social services, children and young people. 

Early Years – There are four main assessors working within this sector including HNC Childhood Practice and foundation apprenticeships.

Hairdressing – There are currently two assessors assessing in salons throughout Ayrshire.

Construction – There are currently 3 assessors, working with brickwork, carpentry and joinery and painting and decorating.

Hospitality – there is 1 assessor who assesses professional cookery, hospitality services and hospitality supervision and leadership.

To be an assessor you need to have extensive industry experience so each one is a specialist in their field. Assessors offer one to one support to their candidates with every portfolio being unique to the candidate, as they have to prove that they are competent in their chosen sector. To do this they use the tasks and experiences they have at their workplace.

Covid Challenges

What has been the main challenges your team has faced over the past 18 months?

Like every team, Covid changed our practice overnight. The focus of the assessor workload is off campus and in workplaces, meeting candidates face to face, doing observations of practice, reviewing progress and completing progress reviews. This stopped immediately as the majority of companies closed and employees on furlough. Portfolios for most sectors were paper based and with the candidates or on campus waiting for assessment. The assessor team went from assessing to more of a pastoral care role, keeping in touch with candidates and assisting where they could to progress their work.

Another difficult challenge was how to complete the SDS reviews that are governed by very strict deadlines and rules for signatures etc.

As the lockdown progressed the team had to find different ways to assess and observe work without straying from the assessment strategies from the awarding bodies. Adapting to online meetings with candidates over every platform imaginable. 

How have you all worked to overcome these challenges?

The assessors have kept in touch by phone, WhatsApp. Microsoft teams, Zoom, FaceTime, you name it, one of the assessors will have used it to try and support the candidates to progress where at all possible, this may be giving underpinning knowledge questions to complete or reflective accounts and personal statements to write.

There was a system developed using emails to complete SDS reviews. The importance of the reviews being completed and compliant cannot be stressed enough as this is what releases the funding from the MA and FA programmes.

Where we could not get “wet” signatures (normally the only kind of signature that is accepted by SDS) there was a system that the assessors could use emails to confirm that the review had taken place and had been discussed with the candidates and the employer. It was time consuming, as there were a lot of conditions that had to be met to make sure the email trail was compliant with SDS requirements and the assessors and apprenticeship officers that were involved went above and beyond trying to get these reviews done. As an entire team (VQ assessor and the apprenticeships team), we managed to maintain our contract targets through an incredibly challenging year.

Some awarding bodies issued revised guidance for SVQ and through this, the team have adapted observations to use live stream remote observations, video observations where someone filmed the task and the video sent to the assessor, and the use of expert witness testimony. None of the team had used live stream or video as a means of observing practice before and after a few hiccups, they managed to adapt to the new methods.

As restrictions have eased, there can be some face-to-face meetings but this is still restricted to date.

Your role as Team leader

Three interesting facts about your job are…

  • I am not specific to any sector and work with all the assessors across all sectors so have learned more about many other areas, every sector needs something different. Every awarding body has a different slant on what is required, I am one of the few that see this because I am not specific to one sector or one awarding body
  • I work with most of the curriculum and support areas in the college in one form or another, liaising on VQ components and approvals at times with curriculum; as well as the teams in MIS, quality, inclusive learning, finance, the schools and community employability and engagement teams
  • I liaise with different teams about different types of candidates: Foundation apprentices, modern apprentices, full time students, evening class students, commercial candidates, business growth candidates (FWDF), and students coming from the community based programmes.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety of awards that the VQ assessors can and do deliver. Being part of a committed and diverse team, and sharing the assessors feeling of achievement when candidates succeed in their awards.

What has been your main highlight / achievement during your time in this role so far?

Being part of a team that has grown and developed as a team both within their sectors and as a whole. The way the full team support each other and support their candidates is superb and has been reflected on every EQA report this year.

The future

Work based learning is on the increase in many sectors. The government has committed to the “young person’s guarantee”, which aims to give all people the chance to succeed despite the economic impact of covid 19, part of this is through the modern apprenticeship programme via skills development Scotland. This year our MA contract is for 240 places across 8 sectors.

In the care sector the Scottish Social Services Council requires all workers in the care sector to be registered and all registrations require a qualification so this is an ongoing growth area. This has been phased in by SSSC and currently it is the home care workers who have recently registered and are now working towards their qualifications. This is a very large workforce and there have been 120 enrolled with the college in the last few months and a waiting list!

We don’t know the impact that covid (and Brexit) will have on some sectors but aeronautical engineering has grown year on year over the past few years.

Hospitality and hairdressing are two of the sectors hardest hit by Covid. There are encouraging signs that these sectors are going to grow this year and with the amount of vacancies being advertised in hospitality in particular I can see this area growing again especially if “staycations” are the holidays of choice, the Ayrshire coast could boom again for hospitality and tourism.

All areas have the potential for growth, my challenge will be matching growth with assessor capacity to accept new candidates. Currently the majority of the assessors have a full complement of candidates although the flexibility of the programme allows candidates to complete at any time of year so there is always people completing and new people starting.

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