Modern Apprenticeship success at Johnstons of Elgin despite pandemic
Modern Apprenticeship (MA) assessors and verifiers at Johnstons of Elgin have overcome the challenging circumstances caused by coronavirus to continue the delivery of the Level 2 SVQ in Manufacturing Textile Products, with 11 candidates completing the course since the outbreak in March 2020.
Johnstons has been delivering the Level 2 SVQ in Manufacturing Textile Products as an accredited Scottish Qualification Agency Assessment Centre since 2015. This allows the company to carry out its own training, assessments, and internal verifications.
The most recent cohort to have successfully complete the course are Laura, Dairis, Robert, Monika B, Bracken, Allan, James, Kirsty, Kim, Paulo, Monika M, who work in production departments from all across the business, including Yarn Manufacture, Weaving, Wet Finishing and Dry Finishing.
Emma Hay, Learning & Development Manager at Johnstons of Elgin, explains how the company adapted delivery to ensure safety for everyone involved yet maintained the high standards of training the firm is known for.
She says the development of a skilled and adaptable workforce has never been more important for Johnstons.
“We adapted to online delivery of Numeracy and ICT assessments with Polaris Training, which involved our intrepid candidates working in new ways – many of our operatives do not use a PC in their day-to-day work – so testing their IT skills to access the ICT assessment, involved learning in itself!
We used Microsoft Teams to communicate with the six Internal Verifiers and 13 Assessors. This meant Sampling and Standardisation meetings could take place safely, allowing discussion across the team, mutual support and innovation in processes.
Now we are looking into whether headsets could be bought in to allow remote receiving of instructions, potentially using tablets/mobile phones to take photos of product evidence.
A huge win for us was keeping communication channels open for everybody involved on the MA Team – this was no mean feat in a time where isolation became the way to keep safe! This meant text messages for Assessors with no access to computers, the use of MS Teams and emails, as well as socially distanced face-face meetings so we could reach everyone. These opportunities allowed us to reflect on our current processes and systems, particularly while production demands were lower than usual in some areas of the mill. Through various forums, such as our Internal Verifier meetings, Standardisation meetings attended by all Assessors and Internal Verifiers, every member of the MA Team was involved in designing new ways of doing things within the restrictions. This led inadvertently to a streamlining of paperwork expectations on the Assessors, allowing them to focus the bulk of their energy on supporting their candidates with on-the-job learning – It goes without saying, this is the most valuable part of their role.
I would say there is an even more collegiate approach to our MA Programme than ever before as we have clarified roles and responsibilities and communicated these widely through a new ‘Modern Apprenticeship Factsheet’.
Communication with Candidates was one of our main frustrations pre-coronavirus, as the Admin Team usually had to go via their supervisor or assessor, figuring out shift patterns from HR, etc. Lockdown meant operational shutdown and HR Processes now mean we have employee permission to use home email addresses. While employees who can work from home are not able to go into the mill, this has been even more valuable in maintaining effective communication and support.
Initially there was a lot of anxiety about any face-to-face work once the mill slowly started to re-open from Spring 2020. However, a standard operating procedure (SOP) was created for the whole company after consultation with experts and in line with the fast-moving government advice. This gave reassurance to Assessors, Verifiers and Candidates. Communication from the Senior Team, including from the Chief Executive, Simon Cotton, in recorded Zoom conversations, highlighted the importance of learning, skills development and transfer of knowledge between peers.
The Learning and Development Manager came off furlough in July and from then on met with Internal Verifiers a couple of times a month to hear about current issues, successes and adaptations which were required to allow the safe and high-quality delivery of the SVQ for all current candidates. The pastoral care side of the Assessors’ role was made paramount – helping Candidates feel safe and communicated with about any disruption to their on-the-job learning.
The team of Internal Verifiers has consistently gone the extra mile, making sure they support the Assessors in their area, verify Candidates’ learning in a timely and thorough way and committing to the high standard of MA delivery we pride ourselves on at Johnstons. Their adaptability and positivity when dealing with change after change has been remarkable and very much appreciated by the MA Admin Team, Emma and Sarah.
Internal Verifier, Laura has been a particularly valuable ambassador for the MAs in Dry Finishing, and Julian in Yarn Manufacture (both having been Assessors, and often jumping back into that role to support newer members of the Assessor team), leading to four new Candidates enrolling in December 2020, and the recruitment of three new Assessors who will work towards their L&D9 Assessor qualification, strengthening our capacity to offer the MA to more people in the future.
The Internal Verifiers and The MA Admin team are now planning to launch the MA in our Embroidery and Lockstitch department, where there is a buzz of anticipation about how this programme could potentially appeal to school leavers or those seeking a change of career, to have a structured and supported start to building their craft.
The support and development of a skilled and adaptable workforce committed to maintaining Johnstons of Elgin’s leading position as a designer and manufacturer of luxury textiles, has never been more crucial. The Modern Apprenticeship programme has allowed us to create our ‘Johnstons Standard’ for the acquisition and progression of skills and to appeal to a diverse range of employees who are keen to achieve an accredited qualification to recognise their textile craftsmanship.
The opportunity for four members of the team to sit on the recent UKFT Steering Group on the new National Occupational Standards and to help shape what the SVQ in Manufacturing Textile and Sewn Products over the next five years, was a fantastic exercise in collaboration with other businesses, education providers and the UKFT to ensure high quality vocational training meets the long-term needs of our business and a way we can appeal to the next generation of textile craftspeople.”
UKFT is the Government-appointed Sector Skills Body for fashion and textiles in all four nations, working with employers, education providers and other stakeholders to raise the skills and productivity of the people who work in the UK fashion & textile industry.