Raising standards – a Q&A with Andrew Dale and Tracey Sajno of 1st Awards

Agility, responsiveness, support and transparency. Every value that matters to training providers, assessors and apprentices throughout the learner journey is what defines 1st Awards’ approach to EPA.

Agility, responsiveness, support and transparency. 

Every value that matters to training providers, assessors and apprentices throughout the learner journey is what defines 1st Awards’ approach to EPA. 

However, even with an ethos rooted in collaboration and honesty, they found that their best intentions were being held back by the limitations of their previous EPA management tools. 

That’s why, when Andrew Dale and Tracey Sajno switched to epaPRO, it was a natural fit that helped them to provide an even more exceptional level of support than their partners and apprentices had already come to expect of them. Here’s what they had to say. 

Andrew, Tracey – could you tell us a bit about 1st Awards?

Certainly. 1st Awards is an EPAO with a background in catering and hospitality: our team have experience in Michelin-star kitchens, as well as running departments and lecturing in colleges. 

We launched in February 2020, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic happened in March, but we took advantage to put everything in place, such as gaining Ofqual recognition and having standards and policies in place so that we could start delivery by December of that year. 

It was a strange start, but by now, we have 760 completed assessments across 25 standards, and we have a strong pipeline to boot.

You started in catering and hospitality – what spurred your growth into other standards?

Two things, mainly.

First of all, the strong relationships we have formed with our college and training provider partners have resulted in them asking us to diversify. We take that trust seriously and pour through the assessment plans to ensure we can meet their requirements before launching a new standard. 

The other part of that is ensuring the standards we offer can provide transferable skills – for example, standards like Team Leader Supervisor provide routes with more transferable skills than Hospitality Supervisor. 

The COVID experience taught us the value of diversification for both ourselves and our apprentices – we didn’t know if the industry would recover from the pandemic.

What makes 1st Awards different from other providers? 

We both have experience training apprentices, whether working at training organisations, writing the standards for apprentice programmes or assessing EPA. We have both been in favour of EPA, and the apprenticeship model more widely. 

However, we both felt that we could do it better than others by putting the personality back into it.

How so? 

EPA requires a lot of flexibility, which a lot of large organisations delivering EPA don’t have. In fact, EPA is still quite new to a lot of businesses who are transitioning from an NVQ framework. 

EPA is a model where the goalposts are always changing, and the support you provide to apprentices and training providers needs to be responsive and agile. 

What’s more, it also needs to be transparent: confidentiality permitting, the more clarity training providers and apprentices have during the journey, and the more details you can communicate at the right time, the better the outcomes.

Was this your main catalyst for partnering with Skilltech? 

There were a few reasons, but mainly, it was to remove an admin burden. 

We needed more of a one-stop-shop that would help apprentices and training providers self-serve. 

For apprentices in particular, it was important that they could check grading and feedback for themselves. Not every training provider uses that functionality, but progressive organisations embrace it as it provides efficiency. 

Likewise, we can also put important updates in their newsfeeds, which gives us the security of knowing they and other stakeholders don’t miss out on communications (because we can monitor them). 

That goes without mentioning the compliance and reporting benefits that it has provided.

What are those benefits? 

Naturally, Ofqual have high standards for compliance – for example, if you have gone a day over your EPA window, they want to know why. 

epaPRO provides all users with a very clear EPA window, so everyone can see how quickly they need to adhere to communications. As we are an organisation that provides planning meetings, being able to book those within the system and have a record of it is very useful. 

It has taken out a lot of the difficulty out of important processes – such as pausing delivery for a change of circumstance, calculating the freezing date of a reporting window, or producing Ofqual data returns. 

Those are all vital for remaining compliant, and the fact that Ofqual is familiar with the epaPRO platform is even more helpful.

Overall, how have you found the experience of onboarding epaPRO and working with Skilltech? 

They have been a pleasure to work with – as with any onboarding project, there are moments of uncertainty, but we have always been able to ring up or get a swift response to a query, and that human element has been so important for us. 

We are very happy with that continuous level of support as we discover the depth of functionality that epaPRO provides.

Lastly, have your customers and partners had any feedback? 

By and large, our clients love it – some have more limited use for it, whereas others have gone ‘all-in’.  

The biggest credit to it is that one of our training provider partners asked for us to use epaPRO by name, and if we did so, they would use 1st Awards for EPA delivery across all of their standards. 

When we switched to epaPRO, they stuck to their word: that’s how well thought of the platform is among training providers.

We would like to thank Andrew and Tracey at 1st Awards for their time.

Whether you are an EPAO or a training provider, we know the level of commitment to your partners you want to provide can be held back by outdated or inefficient EPA management processes. 

Admin burden and platform-hopping are frustrating when managing so many different moving parts – and those are the problems epaPRO was designed to solve. 

We have helped 1st Awards fulfil its commitment to exceptional EPA delivery, and if that resonates with you, why not book a demo – you can see in just 30 minutes how it can transform EPA delivery at your organisation. 

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