Degree apprenticeships - all in a spin!

by Justin Shaw, Managing Director

 

Today marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week, and also happens to be exactly one month until the Government’s new apprenticeship levy kicks in. So with apprenticeships at the forefront of educators’ minds, Communications Management’s MD Justin Shaw shares his thoughts on one aspect of what is sure to be a game-changer for the sector

My head is spinning! I have been sitting through a conference on degree apprenticeships – and I’ve totally struggled to keep up with all the statistics, data, research findings and indicators being thrown out from all these PowerPoints.

Basically the story is this: the government wants three million more apprentices in operation in 2020 (and that’s just in England); to drive this, large employers (about 20,000 of them) will have to set aside half a percent of their paybill (starting in two months time) and this ‘Apprenticeship Levy’ will be paid into a special account with the specific purpose of paying for apprenticeships; it is expected that a growing proportion of these apprenticeships will be classed as ‘Degree Apprenticeships’ (i.e. delivered by a university or college with an employer and ending in a degree).

So where are we now? It is reckoned (by the Higher Education Funding Council for England) that the number of Degree Apprentices will rise from 700 (last year) to 7,000 this September. About three quarters of these will be driven by ‘pump priming’ funds (£8-million) awarded by HEFCE to help drive the conditions within particular universities and colleges for launching successful DAs. Lots of these are being developed in public service professions (healthcare and policing especially) as well as ‘hard industries’ (technologies, engineering, construction, etc.).

All sounds simple – and very attractive (especially when I have been explaining this to my 18-year-old daughter as an option for going off into the world with immediate employment and the prospects of a university degree at the same time – and no great debts!). Right? No – wrong!

Nothing is ever simple in education – especially when it comes to higher education and to skills (and especially when you mix up these two!). The range of bodies involved, the need to ensure a heavily vetted and approved quality education experience, bringing the range of parties involved (university leaders, academics, professional apprenticeship managers, standards advisers, designers, approvers, several employer-side roles, etc.) is a complex and slow-moving task.

Despite all this – and the glowing praise (during this conference) of Capgemini as one such keen and hungry employer (which already has 247 degree apprenticeships in place – and further 100 planned this year) – it is really “reputation” that is among the major stumbling blocks.

“Reputation” was mentioned by pretty much all of today’s speakers at this UniversitiesUK conference – the main issue being that the reputation of Degree Apprenticeships is weak. When assessing barriers among employers, the Association of Graduate Recruiters says 63% of them see the reputation of DAs as the greatest challenge in getting employers on board – and 60% say that potential students are sceptical about the idea of DAs anyway.

From a communications perspective (which is where I sit) there is a major requirement to work out the positives, the benefits, the career impacts of Degree Apprenticeships and present these in such a powerful and compelling way that the choice between full-time three year (or even two year) degrees and ’employment with degrees’ simply becomes easier and easier.

An easy route? Get this message across to the parents, family members, guardians, school advisers – people like me who can influence such choices. You need to steer options and choices and make Degree Apprenticeships a highly credible alternative. This is where investment is needed now – and not in a highly expensive well-spun ad campaign. Keep it simple – focus on the hard benefits and the attractive conditions of a DA lifestyle. Otherwise – heads, like mine, will continue to spin!