Degree Apprenticeships in practice: a HE perspective

Jan 3, 2017 | Apprentices & school leaver

ISE’s Sarah Hathaway shares how higher education institutions are implementing degree apprenticeships.

AGR (now ISE) research is helping generate a better understanding of how providers are developing and implementing Degree Apprenticeships.

The study asked about strategic approach as well as about employer engagement, school outreach and the services on offer to apprentices.

AGR research shows that employers are concerned about the awareness and reputation of Degree Apprenticeships. Providers very much see themselves as part of the solution, but there is more to do.

School outreach teams need to have clearer and more detailed conversations with students so that they are aware of the options, their respective benefits and suitability – not least to ensure there is clarity on the commitment involved in undertaking a Degree Apprenticeship.

Some of the approaches on offer go beyond pre-entry careers IAG. There were a number of responses that identified that apprenticeship candidates will need even more support in transitioning to the workplace than graduates, and at least one university is offering mandatory career meetings to support the application and selection process.

While most seem to accept that this development can be absorbed into ‘business as usual’ activity, questions were raised about the availability of additional funding to support Degree Apprenticeships careers work, and also how the outreach from both schools and employers can be managed by schools.

Changes are also happening with how HEIs are engaging with employers, as part of the business development and support activity. Some have a single point of contact for employers interested in developing Degree Apprenticeship programmes, and for those that do, the point of contact varies between being in the apprenticeship team, the partnership team and the careers service, among others. Not knowing who to talk to about Degree Apprenticeships at a university has been commented on by AGR employers in the past.

On a positive note, where Degree Apprenticeship strategies are more fully developed, the employer engagement activity is increasing. More sharing of intelligence is happening across teams, and specific roles and responsibilities are being developed.

The relationship between the employer, provider and apprentice is a contractual one, and we specifically asked respondents about whether access to university services is built into these contracts.

There was no consistency in offering standard or bespoke contracts to employers, and neither was there consensus on the level of access to support services – some responses said apprentices have full, unlimited access, others have limited the access and many said there was no explicit statement in the contract one way or another. This may seem a minor point, but with some employers utilising more than one provider for different – or even the same – programmes, they are likely to want their cohorts to have the same level of support.

Finally, we wanted to explore how careers services are thinking about apprentices and the employability offer. While acknowledging that apprentices are already employed, for a number of HEIs the focus is going to be on supporting them with developing the skills needed to progress within their organisation. For others, there is a recognition that if an apprentice doesn’t have a role at the end of the programme or leaves part way through, the careers service may need to step in to help them identify their next steps. And there are respondents that will only engage with the apprentice when requested.

It’s early days, but it is clear that many different functions within HEIs are trying to identify the right approach for employers and apprentices, and that there is little consistency across the board. With some degree apprentices graduating this summer, and even more starting on programmes this month, the development and deployment of best practice will be critical to the success of all.

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