Findings from the TIHR apprentice scheme.
The Cambridge dictionary defines evaluation as the action ‘to judge or calculate the quality, importance, amount, or value of something’. This description does not alert you to the range of heightened emotions that surround a process of this type, which even on a small internal evaluation we were not exempt from. In this article we will explore the findings of the embedded evaluation of the apprenticeship scheme here at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR). Evaluation is a core offer so, when the apprenticeship scheme was introduced into the organisation; we agreed that an essential element of the programme implementation would be to run an ongoing process evaluation.
To shape the evaluation our aims were to:
Explore the process of how the TIHR Apprenticeship project is being delivered, including capturing evidence and learning on ‘what works’, what could be improved and to assess the extent to which the scheme had been successfully embedded in the Institute. We also wanted to assess the extent to which the Apprenticeship project has been successful in meeting its intended outcomes for young people, staff and the organisation more widely.
The evaluation team was composed of members of TIHR staff. Over the course of the evaluation we met regularly to discuss the day-to-day operation of the scheme, exploring issues such as workload, internal politics and relationships, the appropriateness of task requests and the progress of the evaluation, reflecting on any developments or consensus.
The approach was composed of: a theory of change map, semi-structured interviews with staff members from across the organisation, action learning and a literature review.
The theory of change map helped us to think about the reasons we were trying to introduce apprenticeships into the organisation and to explore anticipated outcomes. Was the aim simply to offer an opportunity to a young person; or challenge elitism in the research and charity sector? It was useful to explore more broadly complex societal issues about the nature of apprenticeships. Who has access to which opportunities and in which sectors? Are the schemes recognised by employers as a good training model or regarded as cheap labour?
The interviews were conducted by all members of the team in order to capture the breadth of feeling surrounding this initiative. As a small internal team, it gave us a real insight into the experience and feelings of being evaluated. We were surprised to discover feeling more nervous than anticipated. Action learning was used as a way of simultaneously tackling and understanding emerging organisational problems. It also enabled us to see and work through the impact of our actions.
The lack of literature detailing the outcomes/ key success factors for apprentices was quite alarming and it took quite focussed searching to find any relevant material. The literature that was available focused on popular areas of work for apprenticeships, such as engineering and telecommunications. The literature revealed that in these areas apprentices have expressed a lower sense of development (stating that if not kept on, they would struggle to find employment) but had benefited from the qualification. This is completely contradictory to the experience we have had in relation to external training provider, which was disappointing.
The outputs of the project have helped us to determine the consensus/ attitudes towards the scheme among staff. We learnt that that embedding research skills training into the early development programme for apprentices would enable them to be equipped with skills and understanding to engage in different tasks and to encourage staff to routinely share learning. It highlighted the need for clearer communication across the organisation about the development of the project. It confirmed we are doing interesting, engaging and fulfilling work but often in support of the delivery of colleague’s tasks, not our own responsibilities. We recognised that in an organisation of this type there would be benefit from extending the programme to last two years as the first year was mainly about integration, the second year about progression. It evaluation identified that having two apprentices’ fostered peer learning and support.
The project has revealed challenges, gaps, anomalies and unspoken expectations with the organisational structure and role definitions. Moving forward with the project will entail addressing any issues that have surfaced with the findings and making positive changes for apprentices to come.
The powerpoint below contains a selection of quotes from the interviews which formed part of the evaluation data.