Virtual learning keeps Openreach’s Yarnfield training school connected

More than 35 new online training courses are being delivered as part of a multi-million pound investment at Openreach’s training schools – including Yarnfield in Staffordshire – as engineers continue to learn the skills required to keep the UK’s broadband connected during the pandemic.

In a typical year, more than 8,000 engineers pass through Yarnfield’s doors, a mix of new starters learning the ropes alongside existing engineers being given refresher training or new skills linked to new technologies.

During the last 12 months this number has more than halved as social distancing has reduced capacity at the school and made traditional classroom learning more difficult.

To help overcome this, a newly created virtual learning programme with 35 bite-sized modules, is being delivered from dedicated broadcast facilities created within each of the training centres.

These new studios have multiple cameras allowing the trainer to fully utilise equipment and show practical examples as if the delegates were in the room.

Mark Rainbow, Openreach’s Senior Manager for Learning and Development, said: “We’ve really had to adapt and re-think how we do things during the last 12 months. Training is a fundamental part of our business, from the obvious learning new skills angle, but also keeping our people safe by making sure they’re able to access vital health and safety material.

“We’ve got 11 training centres across the UK. Here in Yarnfield, we’d normally see around 8,000 people train here every year – a total of more than 12,000 learner days - and they’d be spread across the site including our 21 teaching rooms, three pole training fields, a cabling area and our mock-up street including houses, overhead and underground networks.

“Whilst we had to reduce this capacity, we’ve worked hard to deliver sessions like first aid training and driver theory completely online. Many other courses are now split between in-person and online learning and it’s probably improved the way we’ll deliver training in the future, which is one positive to come from all of this.”

New virtual courses created by Openreach’s learning and development team include pole testing, diagnosing broadband faults, and how to use engineering equipment such as handheld testers.

Trainee engineer, Glenn Armstrong, said: “When we were first coming into the training school, I was a little anxious about how it would all be laid out. But when we got here, it was really well laid out, I feel really safe, there are cleaning stations everywhere. There are no issues coming in to work and training.”

Since making the switch to delivering more training online, a number of advantages were quickly identified:

  • We could train more delegates online using a platform such as Teams, than could fit in a conventional classroom
  • We’ve greatly reduced mileage, travel time and travel costs for engineers
  • We’re not limited to only training engineers from the Yarnfield area together. They can now train with engineers from across the UK, sharing knowledge and expertise
  • Using all of these savings, we’re able to take a closer look at what courses we deliver, and perhaps deliver more targeted courses that speed up results for things like accreditations and verifications

Openreach’s role in the region extends far beyond training. More than 2,700 of our people live and work here and more than 160 West Midlands jobs were announced in December 2020.

Recent research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) also highlights the clear economic benefits of connecting everyone in the West Midlands to full fibre. It estimates this would create a £4.5 billion boost to the local economy.