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Modelling, Planning and Managing Training Programs – Independent Providers

August 19, 2020

We have recently had much to say about strategic planning in universities and colleges on our blog, and it is clear that further and higher educators are currently facing many stresses as they adapt to the constraints imposed by the current pandemic. But there is a whole industry of training providers, in a variety of specialisms, who are also struggling with complex planning and scheduling scenarios.

Independent training providers come in a variety of sizes, and, cover a wide range of specialist areas, from large blue-chip companies, which effectively operate their own colleges and schools, to smaller training operators that run courses as diverse as accountancy training, or specialist engineering courses. These providers combine to constitute a massive provision of training services. As an example, there are approximately 434 providers of courses in English as a Second Language (ESL) in the UK alone. Further afield, eslbase.com lists over 6,100 schools in 125 countries. Overall, when one considers the wide range of subjects across the whole sector, and the number of providers, these diverse areas of study combine to create a massive sector of training organisations.

So how do these training bodies manage and plan their course schedules? The tools used are equally varied. Methods may range from spreadsheets and calendar applications, through to the kinds of solutions used in mainstream public sector universities and colleges. Of course, the former, while low-cost, have shortcomings, and the latter, often are only available to large or highly profitable organisations due to their higher acquisition costs.

I remember once visiting the (ICEF) International Consultant for Education Fairs  conference, in Berlin as a delegate, where a comment by one fellow delegate really stuck in my mind. We were discussing the annual subscription for a scheduling tool used in universities and colleges, and the possibility of the tool being used by smaller English language schools. His comments summed up one key problem: he stated, that, there was only a conversation to be had when the provider got realistic about pricing. The point being that many of the schools represented at the conference could really benefit from these tools, but they were poorly served by providers who had pricing structures geared for low numbers of high value clients in the public sector. It illustrated that there was a potentially massive need for solutions that could manage scheduling problems of a similar complexity to those found in large educational organisations, but that potential buyers were priced out of them because of unrealistic pricing assumptions on the part of solution providers.

Fortunately, with the advent of the cloud, this is a problem that is now more easily addressed. Software as a Service (SaaS) enables the global delivery of solutions to multiple end users with minimal effort on the part of the provider. It also diminishes the level of IT support that end users need for an implementation. It has not been unknown in the past for a small school to have to acquire a server and upgrade their network to support the acquisition of a client-server application. This not only increases the cost of implementation, but, was often financially impractical. Changes in the way solutions can be delivered now mean, that training and education providers of all sizes and budgets, can have access to powerful tools for planning and managing their course schedules, exam timetables, and other assets such as meeting rooms, specialist bookable equipment etc.

Now… back to 2020. Suddenly education providers of all sizes have to comply with a raft of directions on how to deliver their training programs in a COVID-safe environment. The need is to provide a safe training, and teaching environment, that does not discriminate against trainees and staff that have particular vulnerabilities. It has been noted during this pandemic, that some sectors of society are particularly at risk from the disease. For example, people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities, those working in the caring industries, and so-forth, seem to have increased threat. The guidance indicates that, in the short term at least, a blended approach to learning is likely to be the way forward. Such blended learning, with increased use of technology, and reduced classroom contact, brings particular challenges. With learning providers needing to consider the welfare of staff and students whilst travelling to and from their training facilities, and also providing a safe environment on site, there may be an impact on the numbers that can be accommodated at any one time in face-to-face teaching. Training modalities that may have required trainees to work in close proximity with other students (such as in role play) may also be less practical. This can pose a real planning challenge for training providers. It is an especially difficult undertaking to manage if users are compelled to do so with pen and paper, spreadsheets or generic calendar applications.

Training schools, more so than ever, continue to have an ever increasing need to plan a flexible delivery for trainees and staff while making the best of their training asset. This can only be achieved by incorporating visualised scenario planning within the schedule construction process. In this way those who plan and administer training courses are able to understand at a glance what might be possible and where the bottlenecks and risks on delivery exist. Introducing this dynamic within the planning environment requires the use of leading-edge optimisation techniques, to ensure scenarios can be constructed and generated in real time.

Fortunately, times have moved on from the days of my experience at the ICEF conference in Berlin. Now there are powerful tools that will allow users to model, plan and manage their teaching schedules at affordable subscription rates that bring these applications into reach of even the smallest of training providers.

If you’d like to know more about the solutions that EventMAP can offer you, or have a particular scheduling problem that you think needs some expert advice, feel free to contact us at EventMAP.

Vernon Chapman

SENIOR CONSULTANT

Diamond

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