Championing EPA – a Q&A with Laura Topliss, Director of DNA Awarding

Skilltech Solutions talks to Laura Topliss, Director of DNA Awarding, about how epaPRO is transforming apprenticeship delivery at this dynamic EPAO.

Having worked as a provider, deliverer, End-point Assessment (EPAO) leader, assessor, employer – and not to mention, an apprentice – there are few people who have such a complete perspective on the apprentice journey as Laura Topliss of DNA Awarding.

That’s why, when she took the post of director, she knew about all of the EPA management barriers that could prevent an EPAO from delivering exceptional apprentice journeys.

We talked to her about what she has learnt from her years of experience in the apprenticeship world – and why she has trusted epaPRO to transform DNA Awarding’s EPAO offer.


Laura, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m the director of DNA Awarding. While I joined only recently, I have worked in apprenticeships for several years – from being Head of Apprenticeships at a college to being responsible for EPA provision for thousands of learners with a large awarding organization.

As the director, my main job is to lead the strategic direction of DNA, grow our relationships with providers, offer more standards, and increase the volume of assessments we deliver.


Why did you join DNA Awarding?

For me, it was a chance to begin again - and to be part of something really exciting.

When I joined, DNA was already well-established, but it had only just achieved Ofqual recognition. While we had made the transition to EPA successfully, there were a lot of providers who were (and still are) struggling and who needed help.

The opportunity to take on that challenge, using my own experience to transform DNA’s offer into a truly fantastic service was very appealing.


You have been involved extensively in apprenticeship delivery – did you complete an apprenticeship yourself?

I did. After finishing compulsory education, I decided that A-Levels weren’t the right choice for me. So, I took an apprenticeship in business admin, then an apprenticeship in IT, and I even spent a period in hospitality management, where I completed a further apprenticeship, as well as employing other apprentices.


You have a very complete perspective on apprenticeships – what has that experience taught you?

I certainly never underestimate the challenges everyone involved in apprenticeships goes through – be that the apprentice who has to study and maintain a full-time job, or the employer who supports the apprentice with training and time off to prepare for EPA.

My view is that, while I would like to see more to be done to recognise the credibility of apprenticeships, things are going in the right direction.


Is that something that carries through to your role at DNA Awarding?

Absolutely, it’s about empathy, and for that reason, we really invest a lot into our relationships with assessors and providers.

An example of that is how we support the work of assessors. We go above and beyond to help them improve their skills as assessors, with training, masterclasses, and standardisation workshops. We also ensure they complete meaningful, hands-on CPD.


Are these ambitions the reasons you reached out to Skilltech in the first place?

Certainly. We needed a system that would support high volumes of assessments, allowing our teams to concentrate on delivering a first-class assessment experience.

From my previous experience, I learned that systems could create big barriers to quality, compliance and customer service standards during EPA delivery.


How so?

Having experienced several EPA management systems and looked around at a few others, it became clear that they are not all specifically designed to support EPA.

You end up with so many time-consuming manual processes, which naturally create errors that can impact on our compliance, quality and the customer experience.

Another negative impact, rarely talked about, is the impact on team morale when issues occur. No one likes to make mistakes, and having a system which you can rely on (and which takes the burden off whilst the team can offer a more personalised approach) makes a world of difference to everyone’s experience.


Are all of those factors combined why you switched to epaPRO?

Yes, these were all significant factors, but if there’s one key fact, it’s that Skilltech built and continue to develop this platform exclusively for EPA.

epaPRO was a system designed for our needs that could support volume, minimise human error (e.g. by removing the need to import information from multiple spreadsheets) and help our team do their work to the best of their ability.


You have recently onboarded epaPRO – how did you find the experience?

It was very fast. We planned to have all standards up and running within epaPRO three months after the onboarding started, but we completed the whole project within five weeks, and the support from the team was exceptional.

It was a very positive experience indeed.


And, while it’s still early in the process, have your team or partners had anything to say?

Internally, the team appreciated that they could get their heads around the system very quickly.

Externally, it has been very well-received by both our assessors (who are familiar with epaPRO from working with other EPAOs) and with a key training provider who was pleased to hear that we had made the move to epaPRO.

From our perspective, the fact that the system is an industry benchmark has been so positive for both our current customers and for attracting prospective providers. It has helped us massively.


We would like to thank Laura at DNA Awarding for her time.

Does Laura’s story resonate with you? If you have ambitions to transform EPA that your current software can’t keep up with, you have so much to gain by being curious about epaPRO.

Reducing admin burden. Adding new standards. Improving learner outcomes. epaPRO is the tool that can help you achieve your EPAO’s ambitions. So, why not book a demo today?

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