Revolutionising apprentice assessment: a Q&A with Chris Sell, Lead Developer at Skilltech Solutions

For so many users, the fact that epaPRO streamlines their admin processes and saves them time is one of its biggest benefits.

For so many users, the fact that epaPRO streamlines their admin processes and saves them time is one of its biggest benefits.

However, it has taken a lot of work to make the system as intuitive as it is. Responsible for all of it is Chris Sell, Lead Developer of Skilltech’s team of dedicated developers and testers.

We caught up with Chris to talk about how he has shaped epaPRO, how popular features have come about, and the user-first philosophy that underpins every change you see to the software.

Chris, could you tell us more about what you do?

My official title is Lead Developer. As well as managing my team, I’m responsible for anything that comes out of Skilltech (in terms of epaPRO releases and product functionality).

Whether it’s a bug fix, a redesign or a new feature, I will be involved to a greater or lesser extent, and fundamentally, the buck stops with me.

What’s your background – and what attracted you to Skilltech?

I left University with a Degree in Computer Science and joined a firm that specialised in providing e-commerce solutions for electrical retailers. I learnt everything there about development that you don’t learn at university.

After 10 years, I was ready for a new challenge, and the opportunity at Skilltech arose. As well as being supportive of the ‘mission’ Skilltech had to improve the apprenticeship sector, it was a very new company at the time, so I was keen to join early and influence the product’s direction.

Do you have a background in apprenticeships yourself?

I don’t, but Skilltech appealed in so far as I could put some good back into the world with my work. My previous role involved selling a lot of luxury goods in flash sales, but I feel more satisfied knowing that the things that I develop are being used in education to transform people’s lives.

What else do you find rewarding about your role?

There are several things. One of the things that I enjoy is teaching and tutoring 1-on-1. As a Lead Developer, I get a lot out of the responsibility I have to develop my team.

The other main thing how varied it is, I wear a lot of different hats: it’s not just developing, doing QA or testing, but I’m also involved in a lot in road-mapping, financial planning and working with customers.

It gives me a lot of visibility over the impact our work is having on the end user, and what that means for our strategy to improve the product.

Can you tell us about how epaPRO has evolved in the time you have been at Skilltech?

It was initially built with a custom framework, but in order to scale and modernise it, we needed to transfer it to a more versatile, scalable and reliable PHP framework – Laravel.

One of the most important things we focussed on developing in epaPRO is on-demand processing – essentially, delaying non-essential services and providing the users exactly what they need in the shortest time possible.

By now epaPRO is very feature-rich: where do most of your ideas for new features come from?

There are three main sources for new features: they will either come from a specific customer request; an internal idea, often based on what hear from users; or – less commonly – a feature that is added as a result of another feature.

One great example of an internally suggested feature was the file upload functionality. When we first started, our file system was quite disjointed, which took users time to upload and track files – it was a reflection of the admin struggles a lot of EPAOs have.

Now, we have one place where users can upload files, and regardless of which area of the site they are on, they can access and manage them – it removes a significant admin burden for users.

What is particularly special about Skilltech’s approach to development?

We prioritise the changes that bring the most value to users in the shortest amount of time.

Frankly, it’s often the case that the smaller changes we plan bring some of the biggest benefits for users.

One example of a change with an outsized impact was the ability for users to flag files as ‘internal’ – which means that they can store files on epaPRO, but make them visible only to themselves.

This meant that they could use epaPRO as a central hub for all of their files – which makes the system that much more useful. We received a lot of positive feedback for it.

Would you say that a ‘user focus’ is behind all of your decisions?

We use epaPRO to help users achieve what they want to achieve. Whether it’s an EPAO, a training provider, an employer or an apprentice.

Given the wide range of processes, users and standards they will need to manage, people will use epaPRO very differently. For example, some EPAOs will want to give their apprentices full access to the system, while others won’t. We don’t favour one approach over the other.

Fundamentally, it’s an admin tool, and we are happy to help users get out of it what they need.

What kind of feedback has this resulted in?

It has been very positive, and as I’m frequently with the team at trade shows, I’m often able to hear it first-hand from customers.

For us, it doesn’t matter how fast a page loads or how clever the feature is to a developer - if users don’t know how to use it, it’s not valuable for them. So, one of the most satisfying things to hear from users is that epaPRO is just so easy to use.

At the end of it all, our software is there to help people do their jobs quicker and more easily.

We would like to thank Chris for his time. epaPRO is designed to support EPAOs and Training Providers in delivering apprenticeships: Chris ensures that the needs of the end user are the driving force behind Skilltech's development efforts.

If your team has an admin burden that’s spiralling out of control, or if you need a system that can join up communications between everyone involved in EPA, book a demo to see how epaPRO can become your one-stop shop for EPA management.

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