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Changing by Degrees

21 August 2017 - Rosemary French

The Apprenticeship Levy has resulted in a positive shift in attitudes towards apprenticeships by large employers who want to recover some of this (perceived) skills tax.

Small employers are beginning to understand that they can recruit apprentices whose fees are paid by the large employers. It is still not a well understood message but we are getting there.

I talked about Nestle in this column who had launched a Management Degree Apprenticeship scheme with Sheffield Hallam University.  It has been so successful that they have added three more subjects – Supply Chain, Finance and Operations.

However, there are several barriers for the South East that we need to overcome. 

The earliest barrier is that schools are still not trained or encouraged to provide careers advice and guidance about apprenticeships and vocational training.  There is still an ingrained ‘university is best’ attitude amongst teachers even if that means we deliver unemployable young graduates with irrelevant degrees. We have far too many graduates unemployed or employed in elementary occupations.  The newly launched Careers and Enterprise Company aims to improve such education in secondary schools through its volunteer enterprise advisers.  It is very early days yet for this new programme, the task is enormous and where is the advice and guidance in primary schools?

The second barrier is that there are just not enough young people around who are available to take up apprenticeships.  How is it possible to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 when according to ONS for 2014 there were only 3.5 million children aged 11 to 15 who will be 18 between 2017 and 2020? I believe that much of the government’s target will inevitably be met by employers reallocating current training budgets to the Levy as well as a welcome increase in older apprenticeships.   That is not a bad thing because it will standardise training and create recognisable qualifications for portability.

The third barrier is the parents.  What parent does not want their child to go to university? In my day, around 8% went to university compared to around 32% in 2016. But I did not leave with a £60,000 debt. We need to inform parents that their child could achieve an Honours Degree from a good university and be gainfully employed.  No longer need they worry that they will have to dip into their own savings to bail their children out when they want to buy their own home while still paying off their student debt.  A Degree Apprenticeship is the answer, of course!

Regrettably, an apprenticeship still sounds ‘second class’ to teachers, parents and children alike, unlike Germany where apprenticeships are revered. Why not call them Workplace Degrees (thank you Ellen at Grant Thornton for that title!).  But we really do need all universities to get behind these.  I have noticed that the larger, traditional universities are currently providing fewer degree apprenticeship opportunities.  To date the smaller, agile and more flexible Universities and FE Colleges have picked up the baton to deliver the STEM degree apprenticeships we need.  Employers tell me they love them because they can teach the students how to work ‘their way’ and adopt their values and culture.  The Students I have spoken to love Workplace Degrees because they have all the benefits of no debts, a salary and a guaranteed job while still enjoying university life for 20% of the time.

And I love them because we lose a generation to universities elsewhere in the UK who do not return until they have children under five years. Workplace Degrees mean we can retain that generation with the skills we need, where we need them!

First Published in August/ September 2017 Edition of South East Business


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