In many ways it was a year of two halves, as COVID-19 meant that the vast majority of our people were required to adapt almost overnight to working from home. This started early in the year for colleagues in China, Italy and some other regions, but was a global fact of life by March.
Cambridge Assessment was well placed to adapt, due to the culture of flexibility we were already in the process of building and that saw us named as one of the UK’s top 30 employers for parents and carers by the charity Working Families. Our approach to flexibility maximises employees’ options for choosing a home or office-based work pattern and enabled us to move rapidly to home-based working for the vast majority of our people. To further assist this we issued 500 laptops to people who did not already have them, making other equipment such as headsets, keyboards and mice as well as ergonomic office chairs available to those that needed them to set up safe and efficient office space at home.
Almost overnight, employee development, staff network meetings, Staff Consultative Committee meetings and ‘Town Hall’ meetings were moved online, encouraging and enabling peer-to-peer sharing of good practice and ideas. It emerged that one of the benefits of online working was that many more people could be included at the same time in key meetings and in Question and Answer sessions with senior management; at one event we had more than 2,000 colleagues in the same virtual ‘room’ at the same time. We also mobilised our channels to direct people to further support and online networking – such as a virtual choir run by OCR and other social events.
This year marked the first full year of operation for our new model for managing performance based on continuous conversations between employee and manager. Feedback is positive about the way the new model has enabled a move towards a more agile way of working.
The year also saw us launch a new global employee engagement survey, which runs on the Culture Amp platform and enables us to track how our people are feeling on a range of issues that are proven indicators of engagement. By supplementing the major survey with regular ‘Pulse’ checks we can quickly follow up on areas where a leadership- or team-based intervention could help improve employee engagement.
Another milestone was the launch of a new digital platform for peer-to-peer appreciation. Appreciate encourages people to share feedback with each other in a timely way and also enables managers to recognise their employees and show their thanks. This is through the award of points that accumulate in an employee’s account and can be used to buy items from the Appreciate catalogue or be donated to charity.
Recognising the global nature of our organisation, we launched our new global employee newsletter Take Five on the Poppulo platform which enables content to be targeted by country, organisation and employee roles, meaning each issue is customised to the reader and a more relevant read.
Our commitment to building a global culture of learning amongst our people continues. We have 10 ‘global learning heroes’ representing more than 30 of the key countries we operate in. The leading industry magazine Training Journal recognised our efforts in this area, awarding our team a silver medal for our Building a Culture of Learning programme.
Together with Cambridge University Press, in February we celebrated the achievements of our first cohort of Apprentice Data Scientists. Twelve specifically recruited apprentices have joined the two organisations as Assistant Data Scientists, where they are combining workplace learning at Cambridge Assessment and the Press with study towards a BSc (Hons) or MSc degree in Data Science with Anglia Ruskin University. They are learning some of the most sought-after skills in the job market, including programming, big data analytics and machine learning.
We also continue to offer apprenticeships in other areas including project management, leadership and management and hospitality, with a total of 110 apprentices on the programme during the period covered by this review. That number includes 16 of our colleagues who are on the two-year Executive MBA (Masterships) programme.
Coaching and mentoring remain important to us. We currently have 50 trained coaches amongst our people, who have delivered more than 100 coaching assignments and more than 270 coaching hours on personal development, career development, and leadership and management.
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