If you’re familiar with the world of science, manufacturing and engineering apprenticeships, you might know of SIAS.
Based in Warrington, SIAS is the leading EPAO for the STEM-focused apprenticeship sectors.
They work with over 120 different training providers to assess some of the most in-demand technical apprenticeship standards, supporting over 600 employers including AstraZeneca, GSK, British Steel, British Sugar, Exxon Mobil, Kellogg’s, TATA Steel and Sellafield Nuclear.
They also consistently maintain a >90% first-time achievement rate.
However, it doesn’t just stand out for its credentials or its experience - it’s because of the strong belief in the transformational power of apprenticeships that underpins their work.
We had the pleasure of talking with Steve Smith, Managing Director at SIAS, about how this guides the way they work.
Steve, what do you most enjoy about your work with SIAS?
What attracted me to the role at SIAS is that it has a fantastic legacy and brand strength - we’re part of Cogent Skills Group, which was formerly the Sector Skills Council for Science and Technology. So, our brand is known and trusted by employers and those within the industry.
Personally, I really enjoy working with a range of employers and training providers, and I believe we have a really strong social mission at SIAS. The success that we have supports the sector and the industry, and that’s really important to me.
Can you tell me more about this social mission?
I’m passionate that apprenticeships are incredibly important for this country. They’re transformational for young people as it gives them opportunities to move into successful careers in the long term, so they have a positive impact at both a micro and a macro level.
If you look at the economic challenges we’re facing as a country right now, a way through that will be to focus on skills. If you can identify and close skills gaps, particularly in technical and vocational fields, that’s good for everyone.
Have you completed an apprenticeship yourself?
Personally, I haven’t, but many in my leadership team and the business more widely have.
As an assessment organisation, our assessor team are obviously critical: they’re drawn out of industry with huge experience and they’re mainly ex-apprentices themselves. These people have often had great careers and they want to give something back to the next generation of skilled workers.
It’s really important to have that in the business. With my own background, I could see the space with fresh eyes, and there were a couple of things that stuck out that disappointed me.
I feel that end-point assessment can be quite a transactional space, and most EPAOs have a narrow view of what they should be doing - often just focusing on the gateway-to-assessment phase.
Our role is to create a value experience that’s more end-to-end across the entire learner journey for apprentices - that’s unique to us, and not every EPAO would agree on that approach.
However, if we do that well, it helps our providers, employers and apprentices, and I think that we’re positively disrupting the sector in many respects.
Could you explain what you mean by ‘transactional’?
EPAO is a complex commercial model - in most settings, there’s a buyer and a seller, but in EPA, there’s an EPAO, an employer and a training provider.
There needs to be a connection between them, and what I found disappointing when I came into the sector was that EPAOs didn’t put time and investment into making sure that there was alignment between the three.
This could result in things not being where they should be at gateway (the trigger for the end-point assessment.)
We also didn’t focus enough on the day-to-day challenges that our customers and partners had - and the opportunities that were there, too.
Our model is all about partnerships, and our challenge now is scaling that.
So, what challenges did SIAS face that led it to adopt epaPRO?
Before we started working with Skilltech, we had three main problems.
Firstly, we relied on antiquated ways of working that were no longer appropriate as we were growing.
The second was ensuring that we had a value proposition - without one, you don’t grow and attract new customers.
The last driver was compliance. For EPAOs, the shift to Ofqual as the new regulator in early 2022 was a big transformation for the sector - data consistency and standardisation are fundamental, and you run a regulatory risk without an EPA system.
epaPRO has just given us much more confidence in terms of visibility over our data, which makes our decision-making so much more effective.
How have you found working with Skilltech?
Talking on-board, implementation, go-live and beyond, I’ve been really pleased with the level of support, responsiveness and agility that we’ve got from the Skilltech team.
As a business leader, partnerships are integral to me and I have that same expectation of a supplier. I feel like we’re in a proper, tangible partnership, and I feel that we can be honest with each other.
We had a workshop recently and we needed to iron some things out, and we were able to have really emotionally intelligent conversations, quickly create some wins and build some plans about what’s required.
And what sort of feedback have you received since?
Externally, it’s been fantastic.
On one hand, we had to train over 120 providers, but the fact that Skilltech's system is already well-known in the industry was so helpful.
On the other, end-user usability - which plays into our need to add value and deliver on our partnerships - was critical.
For that, we’ve had nothing but consistently good feedback from all of our external stakeholders, particularly on how easily they can interact with SIAS through epaPRO.
epaPRO is built by people who specifically understand the opportunities and challenges in EPA, and it’s designed to serve the specific needs of EPAOs.
It makes our value proposition stronger, and their experience with SIAS better.
We would like to thank Steve for his time. If any of the challenges or experiences above resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to contact Skilltech and book a demo today to see how it could transform your EPAO.