Coronavirus: How United Utilities didn’t allow the crisis to stop the career prospects of its next generation of key workers

As many young people fear about the pandemic’s impact on the labour market and future job prospects, water company United Utilities has been creatively coming up with safe social distancing methods to help its crop of final year apprentices to complete the final stages of their scheme.

Apprentices are one group across the country currently bearing the brunt of the economic crisis triggered by coronavirus, with many being furloughed and even being thrown off their schemes.

Jacqui Kawczak, apprenticeship delivery manager at United Utilities said, “For our apprentices in their final year who had assessments and exams to complete, many feared their future career prospects within the company would be severely delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.”

At a time when exams and further learning stopped or has been postponed, United Utilities apprenticeship team worked around the clock with the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service, to provide a proposal showing that by using technology to live stream assessments and retraining some employees, the right environment could be created to allow final year apprentices to complete their learning during this unprecedented situation.

“We worked closely with the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service and their External Quality Assurance provider “Open Awards”, to share with them our ideas on how we could facilitate our apprentices completing the necessary elements left, safely and to the required standards. 

“After hearing and seeing the proposal we were delighted when they approved our plan.” said Jacqui.

From implementing protective measures so exams could be completed safely in a classroom environment, to live streaming practical assessments, using 2 metre selfie sticks, so assessors from Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service could remotely observe the tasks being undertaken and ask questions. The company was able to help 26 apprentices successfully complete the final parts of their End Point assessment on time as planned.

United Utilities final year apprentice Aby Garner, was delighted she was able to complete her apprenticeship.

“I was so relieved the company helped find a way for us to complete the final stages on time, as I was really worried that this might not happen due to Covid-19.

“This would have had a massive impact on me taking the next step in my career, after working up to this point for the past 3 years, this would have been a big blow and disappointing with all the hard work I have put in.

“I was surprised by the way it was all set up and how well it went. I would like to thank everyone involved for making it happen and I am very grateful to my company United Utilities and Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service for finding a solution during what has been such a difficult time for everyone.

“I’m now really excited to be starting a permanent role as a Water Network Technician.”

Nowhere else across the water and wider utility sector had anything like this been attempted, and following the success, 26 apprentices will be moving into roles within United Utilities to help deliver a key service to 7 million customers across the North West. 

Bernie Zakary, Head of Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS) said “I am very pleased the EUIAS has been able to apply a flexible approach to completing these assessments and carry out the first live-streamed end-point assessment trade tests. The support and technical advice from Open Awards, and the collaborative approach from United Utilities and our independent assessors made it possible to overcome a number of logistical challenges to enable these apprentices to complete. The lessons and approaches learned here will have an impact across a number of apprenticeship standards and be a significant addition to the tools and techniques for carrying out quality work-based assessments in future.”

United Utilities which runs an award winning apprenticeship scheme is currently looking at opening back-up its application window for its 2020 apprenticeship intake, to help create job opportunities following the crisis.