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From alpha to beta with Apprenticeship applications

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Exemplar projects, Programme updates

GDS is working with the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and associated agencies on 5 of the 25 exemplar projects.  Apprenticeship applications is one of the biggest of these services, with an anticipated 1.38m transactions a year.

A digital service which allows apprentices to search and apply online already exists. However, the exemplar team working at the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) in Coventry is working on a complete redesign of the service which puts user needs at its heart, making it easier for businesses to link up with right people for the role and simpler for young people to find a rewarding apprenticeship.

Tim Clayton, Chief Digital Officer at the SFA is very positive about the project, “I find this project hugely exciting as it’s breaking new ground for the way we fundamentally move our services to being truly user-driven. The partnership we have with GDS has been instrumental in changing the way we think about digital service delivery and we are deploying these approaches across the rest of the agency’s digital services.”

Gary Tucker, Head of Employer Digital Service at the SFA, tells us a little more about the vision behind Apprenticeship applications and brings us up-to-date on the status of the new service,  which is currently in sprint 3 of its beta development.

The exemplar’s vision is to create an easy to use digital service where apprenticeships can be advertised and applied for.


We want to ensure that the transaction is easy to use and supported by information that will inspire users to apply for placements that benefit their long-term career goals.


Finishing alpha with a bang


Back in April 2014 the service faced its first Digital by Default Service Standard assessment. The team were conscious that the only way work could proceed beyond the alpha prototyping phase was to pass this assessment. They prepared bywalking through all of the 26 Service standards and ran mock assessments to ensure they were fully prepared for the questions. This work - led in the main by product owner Angela Scale - proved invaluable.


The service not only passed but the team’s thorough preparation was commended by the organiser of the assessments!  We were elated that it was recognised that the service had made solid progress against the 26 Digital by Default criteria.


Here are just a few of the outputs and achievements from our alpha:


• We spoke to more than 65 users and gained a clear understanding of their needs
• We validated our 4 candidate personas so they clearly describe the behaviours of users and we also reviewed and improved our various employer personas
• We made revisions to our high level employer and candidate user journeys based on their feedback
• We reviewed our approach to users who need assistance to use digital services and now the team are putting into place clear Assisted Digital facilities
• We developed a working prototype for an employer to post a vacancy
• We clarified our understanding around legacy systems and options, which adds complexity to the exemplar, but we are creating a set of APIs that interface with the old system so that we can continue building the new and improved system


Taking stock before beta


We decided to take a period of time before starting work on the beta build to undertake a range of planning activities as a team. We wanted to begin our beta journey with eyes wide open and part of our planning involved setting out our assumptions and questions about where we wanted to go next before making any decisions about how we would get there.


We also took this opportunity to re-engage with our key stakeholders, old and new, as it felt as if there had been a pause on those relationships as we prepared for the alpha assessment.


Where are we now?


We’re now getting stuck into the beta phase of the project!


We’ve completed 3 sprints and the team are in the midst of building the candidate journey. This will be continuously improved until it’s ready to go live, replacing or integrating with existing services. We’ll be focusing on the employer journey from October 2015.


Throughout our alpha phase we engaged with stakeholders at regular show and tell sessions. A great benefit of this was the continued buy in from stakeholders within the business. We’ll be continuing to host show and tells every two weeks as we progress through beta, as well as running testing sessions with users every Tuesday (we call these testing Tuesdays).


We’ll be continuing to run show and tells every two weeks as we progress through beta.


Our next big challenge will be to pass the Service Standard assessment in October to enter public beta with the candidate journey.”

If you want to know more about Apprenticeship applications exemplar you can contact Gary via email or follow the SFA on Twitter.

SFA's Chief Digital Officer Tim Clayton and Gary Tucker, Head of Employer Digital Service
SFA's Chief Digital Officer Tim Clayton and Gary Tucker, Head of Employer Digital Service

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