ISA Training in Bridgend has raised the aspirations of learners studying Hair and Beauty by offering them new experiences through the Oyster Strategy. The strategy offers taster days, exchanges and gap years which have broadened learners’ horizons while also improving the development of essential skills, technical knowledge and confidence within the workplace.
Date of Estyn visit: February 2013
Context and background to sector-leading practice
ISA Training (ISA) was established in 1998 as a privately-owned, work-based learning provider, based in South Wales. ISA delivers work-based learning programmes throughout Wales and South West England, predominately in the hair and beauty sector. In Wales, programmes are funded by the Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills (DfES).
Programmes include Foundation Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships, and Flexible Funded Learning. ISA also delivers traineeships in hair and beauty on behalf of ITEC, as well as programmes for 14 to 19-year-old learners in schools in Wales. In addition to work-based learning programmes, ISA also delivers a range of commercial courses to the hair and beauty sector.
The company’s vision is ‘to be a company of dedicated people delivering world class learning to all’. ISA’s Oyster Strategy demonstrates the company’s drive to ensure this mission is continuously portrayed.
At its conception in 2009, the Oyster Strategy was initiated to enhance the range and quality of learning experiences and to improve opportunities for apprenticeship learners.
The aim of the strategy was to provide learners with opportunities to extend their career aspirations and gain relevant experience in sub-industries of the hair and beauty sector.
At the time the strategy was introduced, trends amongst higher-level apprenticeships showed a decline in learner numbers on level 3 programmes and in the numbers of learners successfully completing a level 3 programme. An analysis of learner and employer feedback, gathered as part of an internal review and market research into the reasons for this trend, indicated that the gap between the skills required for level 2 and level 3 programmes had increased. As a result, many learners lacked the confidence and technical ability to progress smoothly to a higher-level programme.
To bridge the gap between level 2 and level 3 programmes, ISA extended its Oyster Strategy to incorporate skills development. This approach was intended to benefit learners, employers, the hairdressing sector and the economy by developing a bespoke gap-year programme to assist the transition from level 2 to level 3 programmes.
To create a suitably balanced programme, ISA’s gap year was designed not just to improve learners’ technical skills but also to prepare learners more effectively for the changing nature of their role in the workplace by developing their employability, confidence and social skills.
Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice
The Oyster Strategy was originally introduced to facilitate and encourage progression in young people’s learning and to inspire them to realise that the ‘world is their oyster’. It was also designed to give learners suitable opportunities to gain experiences outside the norm of the general day-to-day hairdressing and beauty industry. A further aspect of the strategy was to enhance and broaden learners’ aspirations and encourage them to bring new ideas to their workplace.
The strategy consists of three strands:
• experiences, such as taking part in advanced technical workshops and photo shoots;
• exchanges, initially between Wales and England and now more widely throughout Europe; and
• a gap year bespoke programme that bridges the gap between level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships.
The Oyster Strategy is continuing to evolve and all three strands have been fully operational since 2012. Learners have been provided with opportunities to visit other salons with different dimensions from their own employers’ to encourage hairdressers to share best practice. The strategy thus sought to provide learners with opportunities to widen their experiences and develop and apply their skills in a setting outside of the traditional hairdressing environment. The experiences provided at stage 1 incorporated a number of initiatives to develop learners’ confidence and social skills, for example through experiences such as taster days within the industries of television hair & make up, competition work, photo shoots and educational practice.
For the exchanges, our vision was to create opportunities for learners to take part in work-placement activities within different settings in the UK and in other European countries. Initially, learners exchanged between salons in Wales and England. However, in May 2013 a group of 10 apprenticeship learners will be part of a mobility/work experience visit to Spain, funded by a Leonardo mobility project. To further develop the strategy and continue to enhance the scope of the exchange programme, a bid to participate in an exchange with Cyprus in 2014 is currently being tendered for. In future years, we aim to provide an increasing range of exchange experiences throughout the European Union and globally.
The gap year is a bespoke programme which has also been operational for one year. The programme incorporates the development of learners’:
• communication skills;
• advanced technical skills;
• emotional intelligence;
• employability skills;
• listening skills; and
• basic skills.
This combination of technical and social skills complements those other experiences designed to develop learners’ self-confidence and competence in their chosen profession. While this strategy makes a significant contribution to businesses in Wales and the local and national economy, the gap year programme helps bridge the gap between the different levels of apprenticeship and provides a package that supports learners to develop a broad range of skills. These experiences and skills help the learner develop as an individual and a team member, to remain engaged with their learning, and acquire the necessary maturity to successfully complete an advanced apprenticeship.
Further development of the gap year is currently in progress in collaboration with the awarding organisation Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT). The intention is to create a tailor-made programme, which can be offered on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), to replicate the programme for the hairdressing sector and the work-based learning network.
Impact on provision and learners’ standards
Since the commencement of the Oyster Strategy, over 30 learning experiences have taken place. These include a variety of activities such as wig making and hair-up workshops, as well as work experience at the BBC working on-set and off-set for a musical production.
Of the 26 learners enrolled on the gap year, 81% have successfully completed all components. Of those who have completed the programme, 62% have progressed to other hair and beauty related studies. Thirty-one per cent of these learners have commenced advanced apprenticeships, while 23% have begun barbering apprenticships and 8% have gone into management or attained senior roles in their workplaces.
A number of the learners going on the work placement in Spain were gap year learners.
We will monitor and report on their progress over the next 3 years to help us assess the impact of the initiative.