Teesside University

We’re all aware of the UK’s productivity challenge. According to the UKCES Working Futures report, 1.8 million new jobs are predicted to be created between 2014 and 2024, with 70 per cent being in occupations most likely to employ graduates. But will graduates have the skills to take on these jobs?

For this to happen, there is a clear need to accelerate the growth of higher-level skills, reinforce business links with higher education (HE), and keep a laser focus on creating graduates who add value in the workplace from day one. The Industrial Strategy emphasises increased research, stronger HE-business collaboration and regional growth, meaning the role of universities as economic drivers in their area has never been more important.

In Tees Valley, North East England, the skills deficit is higher than the national average and university participation rates are correspondingly lower. Those disparities will only increase without concerted action. It’s a particular challenge for an area whose future prosperity and success depend on a strong knowledge economy.

Tees Valley also boasts some real strengths, though: strong public-private partnerships; £1.47 billion of private investment since 2011; as well as a highly progressive LEP and Combined Authority. We also have a metro mayor who is a vocal advocate of ambitious plans to grow our key process, advanced manufacturing, health, bioeconomy and digital sectors.

A far-reaching economic strategy includes the South Tees Mayoral Development Corporation, which promotes growth through a major development site that is three times the size of the City of London. And finally, we have a university at the heart of the region, along with an excellent further education network. The opportunities are enormous – and that’s where degree apprenticeships (DAs) come in.

It’s clear what needs to be done to address the higher skills deficit: raise aspirations and participation; increase workforce development; stimulate business innovation and growth; and promote progression into higher education. At Teesside University, DAs are proving to be an excellent way of developing high-level skills and an indigenous talent base in our region. By working with employers directly, we can create programmes that are responsive to their skills requirements and work-readiness needs. That’s the reason we have made a strategic commitment to DAs.

An example of responsiveness is our work to develop an apprenticeship within six weeks with Fujifilm Diosynth, a major biopharma contract development and manufacturing organisation. We’re now in the second year of the Lab Scientist DA. Donna Jacques, Research and Development Systems Manager at Fujifilm Diosynth, says, ‘Having degree apprenticeships at Teesside University means that we can grow our workforce from within Teesside which means we can retain staff a lot more easily.’

With support from HEFCE’s Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund, we’ve embarked on an ambitious development programme to create new opportunities for employers and individuals (of all ages) in our key sectors. The fund is helping us to accelerate and expand our provision at a pace that matches the urgency of the need.

Alongside the development of a wide range of science, engineering, health and IT offers, we have also invested in:

  • Business Development Managers, working directly with employers. Their role in helping to ‘hide the wiring’, particularly for smaller organisations, is critical to support engagement
  • Widening access through work with schools and the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) to promote DAs as a career route for disadvantaged young people
  • A major ‘Grow your Own’ promotional campaign to explain DAs and stimulate engagement by employers
  • Aligning our internal processes to deliver a seamless experience for employer and apprentice alike. Customer service and responsiveness are absolutely critical to effective delivery.

We’re doubling our DA offer in the academic year 2018-19 and adapting models and timings in line with what employers want. While there are challenges to overcome, we’re certain that degree apprenticeships are a game-changer.

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