The Industrial Strategy published today says that “apprenticeships are a vital UK-wide vehicle for employer investment in their workforce, enabling employers to develop the skills and behaviours that they need, as well as offering opportunities for those already in work and those entering it for the first time”.
Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 and were only 0.2 per cent of total apprenticeship starts in the academic year 2015-16. It may be early days to evidence the impact of degree apprenticeships but many of the benefits are already becoming clear.
The opportunity to study for a degree, for free, whilst also earning a wage, is clearly something to shout about and there are a whole host of additional benefits that go alongside that. However, the apprentices themselves are not the only ones who can reap rewards from this new educational pathway.
HEFCE is funding 27 projects run by universities, who, working with employers, will each receive a share of £4.9 million from phase two of the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF).
What are the benefits to businesses?
The 2016 CBI/Pearson Skills Survey found that 77% of employers are expecting to need more staff with a higher level of skills. Degree apprenticeships provide employers with access to a broader talent pool as well as means of upskilling existing staff members.
Stronger relationships with universities and colleges
A recent report from Universities UK (UUK) – ‘Degree Apprenticeships Realising Opportunities’ – offers an analysis of the survey responses from higher education institutions on degree apprenticeships. It found that the number one benefit of degree apprenticeships cited by universities was ‘increased business engagement and closer links with employers’. This collaboration is mutually advantageous with employers also benefitting from enhanced knowledge exchange. Furthermore, employers can make the most of a university’s existing relationships with further education colleges, and grow their networks even further.
Value for money
Funding for apprenticeships is now generated through the apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in May 2017. The levy is a 0.5 per cent tax on the wage bill of employers whose salary costs are £3 million or more each year. It is estimated to generate approximately £3 billion a year, which can be used by both levy and non-levy paying organisations to deliver apprenticeships. Engaging with degree apprenticeships allows larger employers to maximise their return on their levy investment, and opens up opportunities for smaller employers to also operate in the apprenticeship arena.
Corporate social responsibility
Degree apprenticeships offer a real opportunity to enhance social mobility. They have the potential to break down barriers and increase access to higher education for disadvantaged students, whilst also contributing to local growth and development. Beyond just being ‘a good thing to do’, having a robust corporate social responsibility strategy not only provides an increased competitive advantage for businesses but is often now a necessity. Degree apprenticeships offer a prime opportunity to strengthen a business’s commitment to this agenda.
What are employers saying?
Sheffield Hallam University has adopted an institution-wide approach to meeting regional skills needs and employer demand. Alongside developing and delivering a variety of degree apprenticeships, the university is supporting employers within the Sheffield City Region (SCR) to develop their knowledge in this area. It has partnered with Nestlé to deliver a degree apprenticeship in Chartered Management, who welcomed the opportunity to create flexible entry points and increase the variety of career development opportunities for young people.
Anglia Ruskin University has developed an innovative three year work-based BA (Hons) Management and Leadership degree apprenticeship, delivered by the Lord Ashcroft International Business School in collaboration with Barclays. Barclays report that improved access to academic resources is helping them to develop future leaders across the organisation.
At a recent Institute of Student Employers round table one employer reported they are using their own technology in delivery of degree apprenticeship provision. This is equally beneficial to the provider who can seep this knowledge into their undergraduate programme.
What does the future hold?
By their very nature each degree apprenticeship is specific to its accompanying vocation. Every degree apprenticeship must be delivered to a standard that is developed by an employer group known as a ‘trailblazer’. Essentially – degree apprenticeships are designed by employers for employers.
There are currently only 30 approved degree apprenticeship standards but each resulting degree apprenticeship will deliver nuanced benefits within that area of industry. With various new standards in development, and a target from government to increase the number of people starting apprenticeships to 3 million by 2020, we can anticipate many more benefits to emerge in the future.
Degree apprenticeships are on the up but employers still have the chance to get ahead of the curve in this innovative and rapidly developing area.