How can HE make the most of apprenticeships?

The current drive by the Government to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 is to be applauded, says Sharon Walpole

At a time when so many graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs appropriate to their qualifications, apprenticeships give young people another option: the chance to earn and learn at the same time. Apprenticeships will improve the career prospects of young people and employers will get job-ready, highly trained and motivated new staff. 

But not everyone is happy and it’s easy for both employers and universities to see apprenticeships as something forced onto them; an unwelcome interference that costs them money. The drive towards apprenticeships is starting to hit all industry sectors and it’s not only those who will be delivering them, but those expected add apprenticeships to their payroll who are voicing concerns.

Universities are an unusual case. They must deliver apprenticeship courses. But, as many universities have a pay bill of more than £5m and therefore fall under the Government’s legislation, they are going to be expected to employ apprentices too.

The biggest impact on universities in the short term will be an increased demand for degree apprenticeships, which promise to combine study and workplace learning to enable apprentices to gain a full bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Degree apprenticeship are meant to be supported and designed with an employer’s need in mind. Businesses are expected to work with universities to ensure that their apprentices are prepared with the skills their company and sector needs.

As an apprentice is in full-time employment – rather than having ‘student status’ – they will receive at least an apprentice’s required minimum wage and they do not pay for the ‘training costs’ – the university course is free. However, they are not eligible for student loans. Under the current funding model, two-thirds of the cost of the degree apprenticeships will be contributed by the government (capped) and the remaining third by employers. This means that employers have a clear vested interest in partnering with universities long term.

As the higher education landscape changes, universities have a unique opportunity to bridge the further education / higher education divide to create a blurring of the lines on which types of institutions provide which types of qualifications 

This is a great business opportunity for universities. For the first time, many previously insular large employers will be compelled to work with universities. If managed correctly, universities will be able to capitalise on this to create and develop strong working relationships with businesses in their area and across the UK, something which, up to now, has not always been straightforward. As a great deal of funding for lucrative university research comes from industry, building these partnerships could lead to an explosion of new types of funded research.

In addition, as the higher education landscape changes, universities have a unique opportunity to bridge the further education / higher education divide to create a blurring of the lines on which types of institutions provide which types of qualifications. If an employer has a need for a specific type of training that falls between two stools, the university has an opportunity to create the course and reap the rewards.

Of course, as the cost of university mounts, prospective apprenticeship candidates will become more choosy about which institution they attend. They will be expecting more value for money and real, tangible business benefits from their chosen qualification and their chosen institution. Plus the idea of paying for the ‘student experience’ means that they will not be quite as easily impressed!

The current places available for degree apprenticeships are in four industries: digital, automotive, engineering, banking and construction – all industries which have difficulty recruiting the right candidates now, and are expected to have significant problems further down the line. 

It is likely that a further nine sectors will be developing the degree apprenticeship: chartered surveying; electronic systems engineering; aerospace engineering; aerospace software development; defence systems engineering; laboratory science; nuclear; power systems; and public relations. 

The decision to increase the importance of apprenticeships is a cross party one. It’s not a flash in the pan and it’s not going away if we have a change of government in 2020. Universities would be wise to ensure they are planning carefully and are recruiting human resource teams from the private sector to address this new direction. If universities embrace the charge towards apprenticeships now, they will reap big rewards in the future.

Sharon Walpole is CEO, Walpole Media Group


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