Following our recent interview with Head of Quality and Business Improvement, Dan Russell, we’d like to introduce you to another member of the SIAS team, our Head of Product and Business Development, Alexandria Henderson.
Hi Alexandria, you’ve been part of the SIAS team for two years as Head of Product and Business Development for the North East, could you tell us what that entails?
I’m responsible for the assessment material that we have for all the current and new standards that we have in our portfolio. I make sure that all the assessment material is available, and the same for any guidance documentation around that. I or my team will put that together and where required, we use external developers to make sure that the content that we have is correct.
What is the regional aspect of your role?
You’ll hear from my dulcet Geordie twangs that I’m from the North East, and the other part of my role is business development. It goes hand-in-hand with the Head of Product side of my role, because it’s helpful to get out and about; to go into industry, colleges and training providers to see what standards they are using, and of course ask whether it’s something we can help with. It’s helpful to stay close to our client base in this way, and sometimes those conversations can help influence what’s in our portfolio, too.
What’s your favourite part of the role?
Business development, getting out and about with people, but equally making sure that the assessments that we’ve got are valid, they are fit for purpose and at the correct level. Most of all, serving our sector: the STEM sector. We work assessing apprentices from level two all the way up to seven, so it’s quite wide-reaching. I’ll be honest: I love it.
What’s your background?
I’ve got a degree in biomedical science but I’m a teacher; I started teaching for a training provider, straight out of university and I worked on the Young Apprenticeship Scheme, as it was then, so level 2 science apprentices. I then moved over into level 3 and 4 Science and Maths, and that was when I got into teaching engineering and how I become responsible for all apprenticeship standards, when they were introduced.
For how long were you a teacher?
I taught for nearly 10 years and then I moved into SIAS, which was nice, because the previous organisation I worked for, used SIAS as an end point assessment organisation, following the apprenticeship framework switch-off. SIAS was the first EPAO that I used. I then decided I would like to get involved on the other side of the fence, working for SIAS, and here I am. I’ve been involved in product since I started, I was the Assessment Development Manager and I’ve seen lots of change since I’ve been here, in the last in the two years, Science and maths, they’re my babies: that’s my passion.
There’s a lot of change happening at SIAS; what excites you the most about all of that?
I’m excited about the growth of the business: I started using SIAS when I was teaching, and the portfolio was quite small. We were using the SIMT, SMT and Laboratory Technician standards. The most exciting thing now is that initial portfolio is now ever-growing.
In which ways has the portfolio grown?
We have gone from a range of level two standards: engineering operative, lean, science manufacturing process operative, all the way up to level seven research scientist. That growth’s been pretty big, but it’s still across our core sector so, for me, that’s what’s most exciting: that all the new standards we are developing still complement that original set of standards in our portfolio, that we are still servicing. Our customers use us for a reason; we’re solid service providers and built on industry experts: we are the technical specialist end-point assessment organisation.
Is there such a thing as a typical day? What does it normally look like?
It can be split: it can be doing lots of reviewing and reading and writing material, or it can be out and about, going into employers, going into providers, colleges and talking around what it is that SIAS does. No two days look the same ever. Some days I spend my day on Teams and other days I’m out on the road! Next week I’ve got a whole day out planned, which is lovely, it’s really nice to get out and about and meet in real life, after the Covid restrictions, it’s nice to have those face-to-face meetings again.
What projects are you working on that excite you the most?
I’m working with my colleagues to deliver technical workshops on all the standards we have in our portfolio, which is available for anyone that is interested to come along, starting in the new year. Having been that end-user for SIAS and now working for SIAS, I think it’s really important that we have a session like this, so that employers and, colleges and providers have the opportunity to understand a bit more about the standards that they are using, how we deliver EPA for them, and for them to form a view as to what ‘good’ looks like when it comes to end-point assessment.
Prior to taking maternity leave, I was doing technical workshops and that’s something that I’m really passionate about resuming. Having the chance to interact with all of the employers, providers and colleges. To understand their approaches, and maybe offer some clarity, break the standards down and give them a bit more of an insight as to how EPA works in real life, and what are we coming in to look for in the assessments.
What’s the main value that your end users get from the workshops?
I think some people still think end-point assessment is a little like Pandora’s Box, and they’re still not quite sure about what to expect. Even though the standards have been around now for about six years, it’s nice to see people have the lightbulb moment: “oh, so my apprentices need to …”. Then you think: “yeah, that’s exactly what they need to do.”
The technical workshops provide that opportunity to speak to people who are end-users and introduce the guidance that we’re providing, help them use and work with it, which in turn will help them to prepare their apprentices for the end-point assessment. That’s pretty exciting for me. They hear a little bit more about the end-point assessment, the method, and what they can expect on the day. We talk about what will it look like, the timings, the kinds of themes that we might ask questions around and, equally, how their apprentices should be thinking about answering those questions?
What’s your preferred way of working with providers so that they and the apprentices get the most out of end-point assessments?
I would always suggest that training providers and colleges start with the end in mind for end-point assessment. By that, I mean that working with SIAS from the outset will ensure that you get the most support that you possibly can for your apprentices going through that learning journey.
Right at the beginning, when an apprentice starts on that programme, think about what that end-point assessment is going to look like. Break it down for your learner and get them on that journey right at the beginning. It should be embedded throughout their apprenticeship and nothing about the end-point assessment should be a surprise. So “start with the end in mind” would be my mantra for all end-point assessment.
Outside of work, what sorts of things do you enjoy?
I work three days a week, because I am a mammy now. A lot of my time is spent with my baby in the swimming pool or in the great outdoors looking for birds and aeroplanes! I would love to tell you that I was into cooking, but my partner would ask: “When?”!