“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates.
As a general rule, I’m usually more likely to quote Alan Partridge than I am Socrates, but this two and a half thousand-year-old quote is as apt today as we try to find out way through the COVID-19 crisis as it was the day he spoke it.
One of the sectors hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a sector in which I had a personal interest, was the Apprenticeship training sector. When the lockdown was introduced the impact on the industry was immediate and dramatic. Almost overnight, educators were unable to see their apprentice learners in person to deliver training and progress their course work. Getting access to employers and managers was exponentially more difficult, as many firms closed down or operated on skeleton staff, and many apprentices, and those who support them with their course, were grappling with the real-life issues COVID 19 suddenly threw at us all.
However, as the crisis progressed, attention started to shift towards what a post-COVID world might look like. What quickly became apparent, however, is the importance of training, reskilling, and educating. Providing employment opportunities is going to play a big part in helping address the expected sharp rise in unemployment, especially amongst the young, and getting our country back on its feet again.
Recent announcements from Welsh Government surrounding funding for employability and reskilling programs prove to underline that fact. Right at the heart of that effort in Wales is our network of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship Training Providers.
But the reality of a post-COVID world for this sector, which will play a significant role in our national recovery, is that a whole new raft of challenges and hurdles need to be overcome for them to fulfil that role. Restrictions on travel, access to learners, time pressures on employers and managers, no access to many places of work, reduced transport services are just a few of the new obstacles faced by the sector.
As a technology solutions provider, Credas looked at the challenges faced by the Apprenticeship Training Provider market in Wales and were confident that we could design a technology solution that would overcome many of these hurdles. We wanted to help with the often-onerous sign-up process faced by the Learner and Employer and help deliver substantial efficiency savings for the training providers themselves.
Credas have developed Tiro, an apprenticeship onboarding system designed for the training provider sector in Wales. Tiro allows training providers to sign up new apprenticeship learners and their employers. It enables them to complete all the relevant sections of an Apprenticeship Start Pack, upload supporting documents and evidence, uses biometric facial recognition to confirm identity as part of the ALE process, and allows all parties to digitally e-sign relevant documentation. The entire process can be completed remotely or face to face. The ability to complete all start paperwork remotely is a critical feature post-COVID-19.
The system vastly improves the accuracy of completed paperwork by automatically populating fields once the information has been inputted once. For example, suppose on Page 1 of the Apprenticeship Starter Pack a Learner inputs their postcode. In that case, all subsequent areas of the form that requires the postcode will be populated automatically. This automation reduces errors and rejections and saves enormous amounts of time by removing any duplication in the process. Once information is inputted once, it pre-populates all other areas of the Start Pack.
The use of cutting edge biometric facial recognition to confirm the Learners identity provides a robust degree of compliance and has proved to be very popular with users. Within TIRO, Learners take a selfie image using their smartphone or webcam, and a photo of their supporting ID document (such as passport or driving license) and Credas’ powerful ID Verification engine does the rest. This process is a significant improvement on the common practise within the sector of making copies of an ID document and using untrained staff to compare the document against the Learners appearance, which according to Home Office categorisations is the least effective method (Level 5) of confirming identity. By contrast, the Credas system is classified as Level 3 with a 99.7% degree of ID verification accuracy, surpassed only by physically invasive ID verification methods such as DNA testing.
Forms which comprise the Apprenticeship Start Pack (such as SME4, ILP, Apprenticeship Learning Agreement, etc.) are all digitally completed and stored securely within the system. Finally, all parties can sign the relevant sections remotely via e-sign.
With so much personal data and information in a typical Apprenticeship Start Pack, the security of that information is critical. TIRO stores all data securely within the UK and the Microsoft Azure Cloud, meaning no Learner or Employer data is stored locally on any training provider’s staff devices or sitting on anyone’s desk or filing cabinet. With Credas’ existing customer base comprising global financial institutions and multinational transaction providers, we have extensive experience in managing highly secure personal data.
Tiro has been designed to be flexible. The entire Apprenticeship Start Pack can be completed remotely from start to finish by all parties or completed together via telephone or video call. For those who require support in completing the process, the system can even be used face to face. The experience for the Learner and Employer is vastly improved from the way the sector has traditionally completed the sign-up process. The need for lengthy meetings to complete dozens of pages of often duplicated information is eradicated as is the need to chase relevant parties for signatures. With Tiro, Learners and Employers have compared the process to something as simple as completing a car insurance quote or booking a holiday. What was a lengthy unwieldy admin task has been replaced by a slick, secure and painless process.
Tiro has been developed with open API, meaning the system can be integrated with other systems. One such integration completed to date takes all of the information gathered by Tiro and inserts it into the Maytas system provided by Tribal Group, a system used by many training providers to manage contract payments from Welsh Government. Again, the efficiencies of such a smooth and integrated process are obvious.
With remote completion and signing of Start Packs and reduced rejections, the need to travel to onboard Learners is now removed, providing massive reductions in travel costs, staff time and carbon footprint. With integrations into other systems, there is no need for paper, giving further environmental benefits.
Tiro was demonstrated to Welsh Government representatives before being implemented by the first users at Educ8 Group and ISA Training. Our partnership with Educ8 has been invaluable in developing, testing and refining the product and their foresight in agreeing to work with Credas to develop the solution will have lasting benefits for the entire sector and many thousands of Apprentices across the country. Subsequently, further training providers in Wales from both the private sector and FE college side of the Work-Based Learning network have adopted the system to bring a technology solution to the challenges presented by the Covid-19. The fact that Tiro overcomes C19 related hurdles, whilst also providing a better experience for end-users, as well as cost and environmental efficiencies for the training provider, is a happy confluence of positive outcomes.
In the broader context, the development of Tiro is an excellent case study in how Welsh businesses can come together to identify COVID related challenges and create innovative and cutting edge technology solutions to overcome them in a commercially savvy manner. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across our economy, but amongst the gloom, opportunities exist to make improvements to the way we all do things, Tiro is a perfect example of that.
In the words of the great Alan Partridge, “…textbook!…”