|Last year was hugely successful for SIAS and the organisation saw lots of change. We caught up with Steve Smith, Managing Director of SIAS to find out about his reflections on his first year with the organisation and his plans for 2023. |
Thanks for joining us Steve. 2022 was your first year with SIAS and lots was achieved… how do you reflect back on last year?
“Last year was incredibly successful, in many ways a transformational year for SIAS across the range of key areas of focus and priority. I came into the business as the new Managing Director in January with a relatively new leadership team so there was a strong focus on building a high quality team of professionals, from the leadership team down, who could drive the business forward and capitalise on the good foundation that was already here.
“I was really pleased at how that developed throughout last year and how that culture within the business really strengthened and evolved behind our values, and behind our social mission to support industry, Apprentices, and the future STEM skills agenda. It’s a culture and ethos built primarily around a commitment to working with real pace, to being high quality in everything we do, and to being 100% customer-centric – that mindset shift across the organisation was a really successful part of 2022.
“It goes without saying as well that we had some big priorities that we had to land. One was the introduction of our new EPA system, EPA Pro. We delivered it on time, on budget and, most importantly for me, we transitioned our customers in a really positive, proactive and supportive way.
“Another significant milestone last year was becoming approved by Ofqual in February, then building on that throughout the year through a robust continuous improvement plan which meant come December we were able to successfully file a fully compliant first Statement of Compliance to Ofqual. That was an incredible achievement and involved a lot of hard work from the teams.
“We also in 2022 had a record number of new registrations, new providers and employers on-boarded, and we developed a range of new and significant commercial and strategic partnerships. We were also able to really turn up the volume around our brand through our marketing, our involvement at events, and the way we now communicate with our customers and valued partners.
“Ultimately though the one aspect I‘m most proud of is that we were able to develop and introduce into the sector a unique and innovative approach to EPA – pivoting around being non-transactional, partnership-centred, aligning with our customers, and, importantly, introducing what I feel is the only truly end-to-end EPA model. We’re really passionate that end-point assessment support and planning doesn’t start at gateway, but needs to start when learners start on programme. I believe that what we are doing, and how we are doing it, is having a massively positive impact on not just our customers and our apprentices, but on the wider sector also.”
Looking ahead now to 2023, what are your plans?
“Our plan is to continue to build on all that success with zero complacency, we will aim to just keep getting better! We’ve got some ambitious commercial and strategic targets this year which will see us moving, as we already are, into much larger-scale EPA opportunities and partnerships.
“We’re also going to be transitioning our operational approach even further now our EPA system is fully live. We will become more focused on customer support and customer experience, delivering that tangible value through our end-to-end model to our provider and employer partners.
“We’re going to continue to strengthen SIAS in terms of our quality and compliance. We want to work in a proactive, positive way with Ofqual as our new regulator. We have a strong focus on self-regulation, so that work around continuous improvement will continue.
“Product is also going to be a significant focus as we continue to move forward and grow through targeted diversification. Science Apprenticeships will remain as important as ever but there is scope for us to continue to widen our portfolio into wider STEM areas, particularly in the engineering and manufacturing apprenticeship standards space, so you’ll see us in 2023 becoming approved to end-point-assess a range of new standards that we haven’t previously been approved to EPA.”
“We will be, throughout 2023, continuing to play an important role in early discussions and work linked to the future skills agenda, particularly around the green economy and low-carbon net zero industries.
“We are already making sure that we are positioned in the right conversations to bring our expertise, our experience and our legitimacy to bear in some of those early discussions around the skills that are going to be required to support our economy and our industry’s transition to low carbon and net zero. The key question for us is how can we, through assessment and through supporting the apprenticeship standards that will start to spin out in these areas, influence in a positive way. That’s another area that I think will be an evolving but increasingly important part of our strategic direction in the year and the years ahead, working closely with employer and provider partners.”
Businesses are going into the new year facing challenges relating to the cost of living crisis and recession. How might this affect SIAS?
“We’re gearing up to manage these challenges as effectively as we can. The current economic climate; the whole financial pressure piece, is going to have an impact on every business in this country to some degree but we are well placed I believe, in the part of the sector we service, to not be overly impacted, and certainly our expectation is that we will have another year with steep positive growth.
“There’s also some challenges and interesting narratives forming around apprenticeships generally now, such as the consultation currently live around mandated qualifications within apprenticeship standards, which we’re going to have a voice on.
“There’s also the continued challenge around how the sector can make the levy and the apprenticeship framework work better for SMEs, not just large employers. Again, I think that’s an important focus for the sector this year and, again, we want to try to influence that as best we can, in terms of how we work with and support both our large employer and our SME partners.
“I strongly believe that if we as a sector, as a wider economy, as a nation, are to come out of this macro-economic challenge successfully, then apprenticeships and skills development can and will play an important role in supporting that.”