To steer through the pandemic in coming months, businesses need to be inventive, flexible and fleet of foot, says the boss of a leading Sheffield training provider poised to help thousands of local people through unemployment.

“No one can predict how long the virus will affect society for. We need to roll with the punches and adapt swiftly to whatever lies ahead,” said Tricia Smith, CEO of The Source Skills Academy.

The Source reacted instantly to lockdown in March, transforming its business model and taking its trainers and tutors digital to boost the skills and wellbeing of thousands of workers, jobseekers and apprentices stuck at home.

Since March the registered charity has upskilled over 4,000 people and found jobs for over 100 via apprenticeships with local companies.

It is now poised to help growing numbers of unemployed in 2021.

“The one thing predicted with certainty is rising job losses,” said Tricia Smith. “We launched in 2002 and have a strong track record in helping the region’s unemployed during economic downturns. We are ready to help again.”

The Source was forced to cut jobs too, so understands the challenges facing businesses. When the pandemic rendered its conferencing and hospitality facilities unviable, 12 jobs were lost.

But a leaner, multi-faceted team has been developed, utilising employees’ previous career experience in areas of new demand.

A hybrid training model combining online with face-to-face tutoring has been operating since March. It flexes around COVID-19 restrictions, meaning The Source can support regional businesses and the local economy in any situation.

Strategy and forward planning is under constant review so training, job applicants and apprentices can be provided for sectors seeing growth in the pandemic, such as warehousing and logistics, health and social care, digital marketing and workplace health and safety.

In addition, The Source is now a Gateway Provider for the government’s Kickstart programme, which creates six-month work placements for jobless 16 to 24-year-olds.

“Kickstart is fundamental to the future of young people caught up in this crisis,” said Tricia Smith.

“We help applicants get interview-ready, provide them with education and qualifications in the job and will be encouraging employers to convert Kickstarters into full-time apprentices.”

Hundreds of workers tutored at home

Since the UK spring lockdown, the Commercial Training Team at The Source has helped hundreds of local people to improve their futures.

Converting from face-to-face to online tutoring meant specialist training for the entire team and adapting all 130 Source courses to make them engaging and interactive online. This was achieved while contacting a swathe of Sheffield City Region companies and organisations to design bespoke training for their needs during the pandemic.

“We had a lot to achieve in a very short time,” said Danny Slinn, Employment & Skills project manager.

“We went on to enable 342 people to gain qualifications while they were furloughed or home-working.”

A further 150 were given the extra help and confidence they needed before starting studies and over 50 people were distance-learning tutored.

When COVID-19 restrictions eased, staff ensured learners could study in short sessions around their jobs or part-time furloughing, completing qualifications over several months.

Danny commented: “My team of six, and the 12 tutors we call on, have shown true dedication and professionalism.”