DEGREE APPRENTICESHIPS IMPACTS, CHALLENGES AND FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
About this research NCUB undertook research, with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), to explore the emerging effects of the availability of degree apprenticeships, coupled with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, on employers’ early talent strategies and the potential impact on social mobility. The research team undertook interviews with 12 Levy-paying employers (from a cross-section of NCUB members that represent large multinational corporations at FTSE 100 / 250 size with operations across the UK and spanning sectors from engineering, pharma, technology and professional services) and 13 interviews with providers (from a cross-section of universities representing all mission groups and across all areas of England between 2015 and 2020). Interviews took place over an eight-week period between June and August 2017 (two to four months after the introduction of the Levy). These interviews took place either by telephone or face-to-face and typically lasted between 45 and 90 minutes. We also attended two meetings of a cross-employer forum in which we explored some of the research questions. Following completion of these interviews we conducted a roundtable with employers, providers and other stakeholders in September 2017 to present and discuss emerging findings from the research in order to validate or challenge these findings.
The Apprenticeship Levy The Productivity Plan1, published as part of the Summer 2015 Budget, announced the introduction of an Apprenticeship Levy as first proposed by Professor Alison Wolf in a report for the Social Market Foundation2. The Levy came into effect across the UK in April 2017 and is central to the government’s ambition to create 3,000,000 new apprenticeships starts in England. With apprenticeship policy being devolved from Westminster, each of the four UK nations is at different stages of apprenticeship reform, and there is a level of divergence emerging across the nations. While the Levy applies to employers’ UK workforce, the apprenticeship service only supports the English apprenticeship system. The amount of funds in each employer’s account will depend on how many of their employees live in England and the proportion of their paybill paid to these employees, known as the ‘English percentage’. Furthermore, funding rules require that apprentices funded by the Levy “spend at least 50% of their working hours in England over the duration of the apprenticeship”.
Key findings and recommendations for action
•• T he majority of Levy spend at present is on upskilling existing workers, but where employers are using Degree Apprenticeships for new hires, these often replace graduate vacancies. •• N one of the employers interviewed currently plan to cut placement or internship opportunities, but providers retain concerns about the longer-term impact. •• E mployers’ talent strategies are evolving and becoming more joined up, prompted in part by the Levy and the availability of DAs. •• S ocial mobility is a shared aspiration for employers and providers and while both are taking steps to address this aspiration, there is as yet limited evidence of collaboration. •• The current system is disjointed and a lack of clear progression pathways risks impacting on social mobility.
•• T he expected growth of DAs is to be welcomed but should not come at the cost of placements, which are valued by employers and remain an excellent way to enhance student employability; overall, a greater volume and wider range of work experience opportunities is needed to enable student employability and employer participation. •• A s part of its tertiary funding review, the Government should consider how current policy levers incentivise certain behaviours and how the Levy might evolve to take greater account of these, and not penalise those employers that already invest in training. •• E mployer groups should promote the benefits of a holistic talent strategy that utilises graduates, apprentices, placements and interns appropriately. Amid reports of other employers’ talent strategies being dictated by the Levy, there is more to be done to raise awareness with some employers. •• U niversities, businesses and others should work together and learn from each other to ensure that DAs make a significant contribution to the social mobility agenda.
•• S ignificant challenges around the implementation of apprenticeship policy persist – this is slowing uptake and leading some to question the return on investment.
Recommended Actions Key Finding
•• B usinesses are finding it increasingly challenging to navigate differences in apprenticeships across the devolved administrations.
•• A stated target for the apprenticeships programme is to increase higher value apprenticeships. To achieve this goal the IfA will need to acknowledge and deal with the barriers currently being experienced by employers of higher value apprentices, and by the providers they want to work with.
•• D As are increasing the volume and extent of collaboration between employers and providers, creating new opportunities to develop meaningful partnerships and in some cases strengthening local links between HEIs and FE providers.
•• T he Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) should act to ensure that apprenticeship standards and the new T-levels are developed in such a way that enables different progression routes and stopping off points.
•• T he Government should consider how to minimise how the Levy and the differences in apprenticeship policy in the devolved administrations impact on UK-wide businesses.
•• U niversities and businesses should capitalise on the partnerships they are forming around DAs to reap broader benefits (other innovative forms of work experience, greater involvement of employers in curriculum, KE activity etc). •• W here universities are working in partnership with FE, and especially where part of the DA provision is delivered in FE, there are opportunities to ensure that FE Colleges also benefit from increased employer engagement.
OVERVIEW Degree Apprenticeships (DAs) present an opportunity to redefine the parameters of talent co-creation between universities and businesses. Enshrined in the apprenticeship concept and delivery is the requirement for them to be employer-led. Providers (universities, colleges, private training providers) must work in partnership with employers to co-design new programmes. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 has provided a stimulus that has disrupted the ways in which universities and businesses approach the development of graduate talent. Drawing on interviews with members of the National Centre, this report considers the emerging effects that the introduction of the Levy is having on employer and provider practices. The report is broken down into three sections. First â€“ the impacts of the Levy on both the talent strategies of employers as well as efforts to deliver social mobility aspirations. Second â€“ emerging challenges that are preventing the positive impacts of the Levy from being realised. And finally, opportunities that our members hope might be achieved in the future as the Levy beds in and the landscape settles.
SECTION 1: IMPACTS The Apprenticeship Levy was always likely, and in many ways intended, to change employer practices. The impacts of the Levy are already being felt in a number of ways – mostly noticeably it is challenging or accelerating reviews of talent strategies of many employers. The Levy presents both a cost to an employer but also an opportunity to recoup and direct activity against it. As such, employers are revisiting or refreshing or in many instances recasting their talent strategies to capitalise on these opportunities. But in reviewing their talent strategies, many employers are also considering the extent to which their practices and approaches are enabling them to achieve or address issues of diversity and social mobility within their workforce. In this opening section we consider the impacts of the Apprenticeship Levy on both the Talent Strategies of employers as well as on practices and approaches to deliver their Social Mobility agendas.
A. TALENT STRATEGIES Here we explore how employers’ talent strategies are evolving with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and the increasing availability of degree apprenticeships.
Impact on graduate vacancies All 12 of the employers interviewed were already using graduates, internships and/or placements and some form of higher and/or degree apprenticeships as part of their early talent strategies; all were also subject to the Levy. We found that, in all 12 cases, employers are planning to increase the volume of degree apprentices they recruit over the next two years and all 12 are also planning to increase the ratio of degree apprentices to graduates, albeit starting from a low base. In some cases, this shift is quite dramatic: one employer, which was planning to take on 40 new degree apprentices in September, is reducing its graduate recruitment from 100 to 60 as a direct consequence of this planned increase in degree apprentices. The Levy can be used for new recruits as part of employers’ early talent strategies but can also be used to upskill existing employees. The balance of new and existing employees being trained through apprenticeships varies considerably across employers and is influenced by a range of factors including the availability of standards, the volume of new talent needed and considerations of the impact of (a stipulated minimum of 20%) time off the job for existing staff. Where DAs are being used for new recruits, they are tending to replace a graduate vacancy directly. This is not an entirely new phenomenon – some employers report that they were already diversifying their early talent pipelines, including by replacing some graduate vacancies with higher apprenticeships at levels 4 and 5.
“We set up a school-leaver programme which developed into [a level 4] apprenticeship programme a couple of years ago, as part of a move to slightly rebalance our early years strategy which was entirely graduate entry.”
For three of the 12 employers, the volume of graduate vacancies is set to increase alongside a growth in degree apprenticeships. For these employers, continuing recovery from the recent economic downturn coupled with an ageing workforce (“60% of our workforce is now over 50”) are combining to ensure they have a business need for increasing numbers of graduates alongside new degree apprentices. Even here, where the volume of graduate vacancies is maintained or increased, the relative proportion of degree apprentices to graduates is increasing.
Impact on placements and internships Work experience, in the form of placements and internships, plays a key role in enhancing graduate employability as highlighted in previous NCUB research. More and more universities are looking to offer assessed work experience opportunities to students as part of their undergraduate study. In this context, concern has been expressed about the advent of the Apprenticeship Levy and its potential to act as a disincentive to forms of talent development such as placements whose costs employers cannot recoup through the Levy. Through this research, we sought to establish how demand for placements and internships was holding up among employers using DAs. In contrast to the effect on graduate recruitment, there is as yet little evidence to suggest that increasing degree apprenticeships is leading to a reduction in other forms of work experience. None of the employers interviewed are planning to reduce the volume of placements or internships, even where the overall number of graduate vacancies may be falling. One employer, which offers over 300 undergraduate placements annually, has no plans to decrease these at present stating that these placements provide value in their own right.
“They are valued. It’s like a one-year interview. One of the challenges is supervisory capacity because the person gets good training. (…) In R&D we have 12-month industrial placements but we can’t go any shorter than that, because of the training it needs. By the time we have trained them over the summer when they are able to do something that has value to us, they have to go back to university.”
Another employer, which currently offers 15 summer internships and 15 year-long placements, also intends to maintain the volume of placements it offers despite reducing its graduate intake quite significantly:
“We have 3-month summer placements and 12-month internships. And if they are successful they are pipelined to our graduate programme. The numbers have roughly remained the same. There is always going to be a need for those people because we hope for them to go to our graduate programmes. Unless our graduate numbers were to dip very, very low.”
But as well as playing a valuable role in the talent pipeline, employers recognised that placements and internships can also be an effective way to enhance company brand and reputation within the sector:
“[It is] also about our brand and network – the [interns graduate and] go into industry and talk about their good experiences with us.”
Some employers even plan to offer more placements, prompted at least in part by the Levy. For one employer, which has a summer internship scheme but has not traditionally offered student placements, the introduction of
the Levy is leading to a shake-up in the way it approaches early talent and consequentially it sees more – rather than less – of a role for placements, internships and other forms of work experience:
“The shake up in the apprenticeship world is creating this knock-on into the graduate world. It is driving the change. If we hadn’t had the Levy arrive, we probably would still continue our old methodology. It’s the arrival of the Levy that is creating the challenge in the apprenticeship world, which has enforced us to reflect on where the graduate programme is going.”
Evidence from providers also supports the tentative finding that placements and internships are holding up. Only one of the 13 providers interviewed had experience of an employer cutting back its internship or placement programme. This large public-sector employer – influenced by the Levy and the Government’s public-sector apprenticeship target – was planning to discontinue its graduate scheme, moving completely to apprenticeships, and as a consequence it no longer sees a need for placements or internships which it has used as a pipeline to graduate talent. For other providers, in keeping with the findings of earlier research conducted by the National Centre3, the greater challenge remains convincing students to take up the placements that are available. On the whole, however, providers are warning against complacency and remain concerned about future impact, against the landscape of a sharp projected increase in degree apprenticeships over the next two years and institutional targets to increase – and not just maintain – the volume of work experience opportunities for their students.
“Our strategic plan is to give every student assessed work experience. My concern is how they are going to find these places when apprenticeships take off.”
The imminent rollout of T-levels with a mandatory work placement for all students is leading to concerns over ‘placement fatigue’ and these concerns were reflected in feedback from both employers and providers.
Evolving early talent strategies The introduction of the Levy has undoubtedly been a factor in the observed shift away from graduates towards degree apprentices. At the same time, several employers emphasised that their strategies are driven less by the need to recoup their Levy than by a holistic approach to acquiring the skills they need as a business:
“We need to ensure the Levy drives the right behaviours.”
Given that, for the majority of employers, the total volume of new recruits each year is unlikely to account for all of their Levy, it is unsurprising that the Levy is leading them to consider how existing graduate training schemes and CPD provision can be developed into apprenticeships, be those at degree-level or otherwise.
NCUB (2015). Growing Experience. A Review of Undergraduate Placements in Computer Science for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
Some of the employers suggested that it was becoming harder to articulate in some areas what their traditional graduate recruits offered over and above what they get from a degree apprentice. For one:
“PhD domain expertise will matter, but it’s not so clear what the added value is for graduates.”
We also heard from employers how their partnership with a university around a DA had led to changes in associated degree programmes, incorporating more work-based learning into the curriculum, to the benefit of the wider population of undergraduate students and ultimately to businesses.
“They are putting more in the programme, doing projects, and making it much more like work. They have to have deliverables, work together in teams which makes it good for all the businesses in the area.”
Some employers, which had previously treated their graduates and apprentices as distinct communities, espoused the benefits of creating a ‘junior talent community’ within the business, bringing together their apprentices, interns, placement students and graduate recruits as one peer group. Others at an earlier stage of development indicated an intention to follow suit. There are also signs that some employers and providers are starting to give consideration to ensuring that graduates remain able to compete with degree apprentices. For one employer:
“We are starting to see apprentices outperform graduates.”
This employer is considering opportunities for undergraduates studying alongside its degree apprentices to shadow them in the workplace, helping to boost their employability skills and contextualise their learning.
B. SOCIAL MOBILITY The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and the adoption of Degree Apprenticeships has had further impacts on the employer and provider practices in addressing and promoting social mobility. This has become one of the key aims of the Government’s apprenticeship agenda. We found that there was a commitment from both employers and providers to ensuring DAs enable social mobility. As awareness and activity with this agenda increases there were examples of sharing of good practice and active partnering between employers and providers.
Understanding employer and provider attitudes For both employers and providers addressing and supporting social mobility through the apprenticeships was widely recognised but there were differences as to how critical an element this was. For some employers, social mobility has been a key driver behind their involvement in apprenticeships:
“One of the key things is that we have an established social mobility strategy. Apprenticeships are a route to find people from less advantaged background to our firm.”
But for others, social mobility is seen as a positive by-product, but no more than that:
“The background for us doesn’t matter. We don’t recruit because of the background. We want people who haven’t got the expectancy to having things easy. That comes out in the interviews and the assessment centre.”
From a provider perspective, a number reiterated their commitment to widening participation in HE stands them in good stead to reach a wider range of potential apprentices.
“I know it is one of the government’s policy drivers for apprenticeships. I can see how it can be useful. If you don’t end up with a loan and you earn while you learn and get experience, I think it can play a part in the social mobility agenda. As a university, we are very active and forward-thinking how we deal with WP students and we have outreach programmes. But I also think that normally it’s nonWP parents who are more informed of the opportunities. When the message is out, that will help employers to recruit from WP backgrounds.”
For most providers, the first 12-24 months have been particularly challenging, as they look to engage with employers, build capacity internally and keep on top of policy developments and this may explain in part why considerations around social mobility have been pushed somewhat to the side lines:
“It’s overdue – everyone’s been rushing around but it’s something we need to focus on.”
Doing things differently One employer that cited the need to diversify their workforce and make better use of untapped pools describes how they have adapted their talent recruitment processes to fulfil this aim.
“If we’re recruiting graduates, we stick ads in the press and expect them to come to us, and by large they do. But if degree apprenticeships are going to help us reach people who wouldn’t normally consider us, then we know we have to do things differently. So we do more online through social media and digital content, we do more face to face like at the Skills Show and the Big Bang, and we’ve formed partnerships with charities and others to help us reach, for example, female ex-offenders and disability special schools.”
Awareness is unlikely to be enough in itself however, and some employers are investing in pre-application support:
“We identified 18 schools around the country in the areas of social deprivation from which to source candidates. We have a specific work experience programme that is only for people who come from low socio-economic background, about 230 every year. The idea is that they then become apprentices. We have contextualised recruitment in all our programmes. This may hit people who may not have all the academic criteria, and e.g. free school meals.”
Sharing the responsibility One provider described how it is supporting employers through its own recruitment and selection process centred around strengths-based assessment methods, while other providers are looking to follow suit:
“From a social mobility perspective, graduates give a narrow set of profiles. For apprentices, it’s wider. We will work very hard to deliver the message to employers not to rely on traditional entrytype qualifications. We know that those previous qualifications are not great predictors of future performance. We have been developing selection procedures using a strength-based methodology.”
“[Up to this point] it has been pure employers’ selection. We want to play a more active role and help the employers to recruit and find the best people. This is what apprenticeships providers have been doing anyway.”
In another case, a provider had adopted the policy of only working with employers that will pay apprentices the living wage in order to minimise barriers to reaching potential apprentices.
Barriers at the school level There was agreement among employers and providers that the narrow metrics that measure schools on progression to A-Levels and into higher education create disincentives for schools to promote apprenticeships and alternative pathways into degree apprenticeships. Even if DAs themselves are recorded as a form of higher education, schools often do not see it in their interest to promote them, and this risks constraining the pool of talent and working against employers’ aspirations to use DAs to increase diversity. Employers are taking on some of this responsibility out of necessity yet they often struggle to reach the right schools – “those that are interested are often the ones that don’t need our help”. Providers are using their involvement in HEFCE’s National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) to develop better careers Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) around apprenticeships and there may be more opportunity here for employers to work in partnership to reach more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
SECTION 1: SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDED ACTIONS The employers that contributed to this research are ahead of the general curve with degree apprenticeships. Most have played an active part in trailblazers and most were already using apprenticeships (including higher apprenticeships) before the Levy was even announced. In this respect, they might be considered atypical; however, the approaches they are taking to early talent development are less likely to reflect a kneejerk response to the Levy and could provide a useful reference point for other employers seeking to refine their own early talent strategies. Where employers are opting to replace a proportion of their graduate hires with degree apprentices, they are not seeing less need for graduates per se, but instead are embracing the opportunity to attract talent earlier in the pipeline, with the assurance that the hire will gain a degree as well as achieving occupational competence and an understanding of and empathy with the business. Indeed, some employers with a level 4 apprenticeship scheme are now looking to offer progression to undergraduate degree or masters-level, either through new apprenticeship standards as they become available or through sponsored part-time study.
RECOMMENDED ACTION Employer groups should promote the benefits of a holistic talent strategy that utilises graduates, apprentices, placements and interns appropriately. Amid reports of other employersâ€™ talent strategies being dictated by the Levy, there is still more to be done to raise awareness with some employers.
Given the findings of NCUB research into student placements, it is encouraging to find that employers are currently maintaining and in some cases increasing other forms of work experience including placements. Nonetheless it is interesting to note the extent to which some employers are rebalancing from graduates to degree apprentices â€“ in some cases making significant shifts on the evidence of 12 months or fewer of running a DA programme. While the early experience of degree apprentices appears almost universally positive among their employers, there are potential challenges around scale-up â€“ in terms of ability to attract the same quality of apprentices; supervisory capacity among employers and capacity of providers to scale up delivery.
RECOMMENDED ACTION The expected growth of DAs is to be welcomed but should not come at the cost of placements, which are valued by employers and remain an excellent way to enhance student employability; overall, a greater volume and wider range of work experience opportunities is needed to enable student employability and employer participation.
It should be noted that providers remain concerned about the possibility that the Levy may act in the longer term as a disincentive to other forms of vocationally oriented provision â€“ degrees with sandwich years and other forms of work experience in the eyes of employers and potential students, and ultimately university decision-makers. Previous NCUB research has highlighted that diversity and innovation in provision is key to meeting employer and learner demand.
RECOMMENDED ACTION As part of its tertiary funding review, the Government should consider how current policy levers incentivise certain behaviours and how the Levy might evolve to take greater account of these, and not penalise those employers that already invest in training.
The majority of participants were supportive of the role DAs could play in enabling social mobility. They also recognised that there was more they could do to ensure this happens. Where businesses and universities pool their respective expertise in assessment methods and widening access, there are significant gains to be had.
RECOMMENDED ACTION Universities, businesses and others should work together and learn from each other to ensure that DAs make a significant contribution to the social mobility agenda. HEFCEâ€™s NCOP could provide a useful model for this.
The system remains disjointed, with a lack of coherence between apprenticeship standards at lower levels and those being developed at higher levels. Clear progression pathways and stopping off points will play an important part in supporting social mobility.
RECOMMENDED ACTION The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) should act to ensure that apprenticeship standards and the new T-levels are developed in such a way that enables different progression routes and stopping off points.
SECTION 2: CHALLENGES The ability to meet the aspirations of the Government’s social mobility agenda or redevelop employer talent strategies is being hindered by implementation and institutional challenges. We explored with employers and providers the issues and barriers that they are facing in establishing degree apprenticeship programmes and which may well have implications on forecast expansion.
A. IMPLEMENTING APPRENTICESHIP POLICY – THE ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT AND ITS AGENCIES The Government’s apprenticeship reform programme is intended to boost productivity through the development of higher value apprenticeships, and DAs provide many of the higher-level skills sought by employers. Whilst it is important to acknowledge that the scale of change in apprenticeship policy and the speed by which it needed to be implemented meant that it was likely there would be challenges, from the employers and providers we spoke with there were clear frustrations with the way in which policy implementation has been handled.
(Dis)approvals process Foremost among those concerns is the process by which apprenticeships standards, assessment plans and funding bands are reviewed and approved. Those who have been involved in the trailblazer process cited a sense of frustration in the apparent lack of transparency in the process and a feeling that those reviewing the standards didn’t have as full an understanding of the occupations that they represented and how higher education works. It is important to acknowledge that the Institute for Apprenticeships has subsequently launched the Faster, Better campaign which appears to acknowledge these concerns and there is hope amongst employers and providers that improvements will begin to take effect quickly.
Consistent inconsistency Despite significant knowledge transfer from the Department to the IfA (especially with a number of relationship managers moving across), interviewees reported some perceived inconsistency in decision-making and advice. Employers and providers both cited instances of standards being submitted and returned with conflicting comments, which contributed to confusion and uncertainty in the process.
Delays on the track In practical terms, several employers and providers cited examples of planned recruitment cycles being shelved due to unanticipated delays to the approval process – this in turn has made it harder for those within providers and employers to make the case for degree apprenticeships to decision makers keen to see a return on investment for what is a burdensome process. It is hoped that the IfA’s Faster, Better campaign will address these challenges and make it a much faster process.
Uniting a kingdom of opportunities Employers are facing unforeseen challenges around restrictions on Levy spend outside England and differences in policy across the devolved administrations where they are looking to implement a consistent early talent strategy across their UK business.
Summing up the situation, one employer complained:
“It is utterly problematic for us. We can’t give funding to our Belfast Office. And our people that move around - how to track them? They are first in Scotland but then they move to England. We pay a bill for all our people but can’t get the money back – it’s frustrating. Authorities are not yet coming out with definitive information to enable businesses to maximise the Levy, which is difficult for geographically dispersed businesses.”
(Dis)encouraging SME engagement Several providers see degree apprenticeships as part of their strategy to support local and regional employers and to promote higher level skills development in the region. Through our interviews we heard how providers and employers are experiencing conflicting messages from the Government about how important Degree Apprenticeships are to the programme. HEFCE’s investment in the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF) appears to encourage growth in this element of the apprenticeship scheme but day to day experience of the system constrains uptake. This is particularly noticeable around market entry of SMEs. The long-term sustainability of the apprenticeship programme needs to move beyond just the large Levy paying employers and attract more SMEs to engage and take up opportunities. The feeling we had from providers was a sense of disappointment not to be able to service their extensive SME networks.
B. EMPLOYER EXPECTATIONS AND PROVIDER CAPACITY-CAPABILITY The introduction of the Levy and the push to significantly increase apprentice levels has significantly disrupted the system. The interactions and interplays between employers and providers have invariably changed. Expectations have altered and clearly we are entering a period of readjustment where both sides need to develop realistic expectations of the other.
Changing expectations Perhaps an inevitable consequence of the Levy incentivising employers without a track record of training employees or working with providers to get involved with apprenticeships. Providers are having to adjust to these demands and some have responded better and quicker than others. As one provider commented: “There are huge expectations from employers now – it’s a step change from a sponsored degree to an apprenticeship”.
Extended expectations One provider reported that some larger businesses are starting to look for an overall solutions provider that can conduct training needs analyses, advise on Levy spend, manage administration and act as a provider “and as a result of we are losing a lot of contracts to private providers, who are better placed for this”.
Commercial expectations While providers pointed to heightened employer expectations, businesses highlighted what they saw as the current limitations among providers. One employer, while sympathetic to their plight, commented that universities needed to better understand some of the commercial aspects of apprenticeships such as tendering and contracts, and how the Levy works in terms of finances.
Managing expectations Providers are also grappling internally with how to manage expectations amongst colleagues who see lots of opportunities for the university. But as one provider noted: â€œA little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some colleagues get a little excitable and start promising the moon when the rules have changed. We need to be able to manage those conversations betterâ€?.
SECTION 2: SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS Research conducted by the Institute of Student Employers4 and Universities UK5 predicted a sharp increase in both supply and demand for degree apprenticeships over the next two years. This optimism is tempered by the experiences of employers and providers and the sense of frustration in the ways in which it has been implemented. Whilst acknowledging early teething issues, a number of challenges remain especially in relation to delays in approving new standards, assessment plans and funding bands.
RECOMMENDED ACTION A stated target for the apprenticeships programme is to increase higher value apprenticeships. To achieve this goal the IfA will need to acknowledge and deal with the barriers currently being experienced by employers of higher value apprentices, and by the providers they want to work with.
Employers are facing unforeseen challenges around restrictions on Levy spend outside England and differences in policy across the devolved administrations where they are looking to implement a consistent early talent strategy across their UK business.
RECOMMENDED ACTION The Government should consider how to minimise how the Levy and the differences in apprenticeship policy in the devolved administrations impact on UK-wide businesses.
SECTION 3: FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES Whilst it is important to acknowledge the impacts and challenges brought about by the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy – for a number of employers and providers it is opening up new collaborations, deepening existing partnerships and encouraging new innovations and approaches. Clearly there are restrictions and parameters to work within but many programmes are breaking new ground and it can be an exciting space to disrupt traditional practices, push boundaries and genuinely co-develop new modes of delivery. The value of meaningful collaboration and partnership – at a variety of levels – was emphasised by employers and providers as accruing from the development of degree apprenticeships.
Deepening partnerships between universities and businesses It goes without saying that university-business collaboration is a critical feature of successful degree apprenticeships, but participants have noted the wider opportunities that these partnerships can bring. For some employers, graduate recruitment has traditionally focused on targeting a small group of researchintensive institutions, ‘preferred providers’ from which much of their graduate intake is drawn. For the most part, these institutions are not currently at the vanguard of degree apprenticeships and conversations revealed that employers are having to look elsewhere, often with very positive results.
“Some of the universities we are working with, they absolutely get it – they understand the importance of working with employers, being flexible and fast-tracking approvals. We had good discussions with higher profile institutions, those with higher reputations, but ultimately they were not interested enough.” One employer describes how the degree apprenticeship partnership is already leading to new opportunities:
“We have now been invited to the university to set up recruitment stands at the open days, an opportunity we didn’t have before. They are obviously very proud of what they have achieved with us over the past years. They use that for marketing. We work very well together and have a good relationship.” Several providers described how employer interest in degree apprenticeships and the desire to spend their levy was leading to greater engagement and broader conversations around talent, different work experience opportunities and other forms of collaboration:
“When we speak with employers [about DAs] we widen the conversation.”
Greater collaboration between employers Employers also reported that there had been greater collaboration and knowledge sharing with other employers, and not just through the facilitation of sector skills councils or trailblazer groups, with one having set up a crosssector employer forum:
“Employers are connecting and talking with each other because the process of apprenticeships has expanded. They might normally be competitors, but in this game they’re not. A lot of employers are nervous and I would say most people go away from our meetings confident that they are not alone.”
Universities were also keen to highlight the value of greater employer collaboration informing their provision.
“We welcome industry input through our advisory boards but it is hard to get a rounded view of what industry wants from the curriculum. The trailblazer process has forced employers to find a common ground and that’s invaluable to us in shaping our provision.”
Enhanced partnerships between HE and FE HE providers reported that engagement with degree apprenticeships had brought a greater level of collaboration and knowledge sharing. While many universities have longstanding relationships with Further Education colleges, and more recently formal partnerships with University Technical Colleges and academies, the level of collaboration is striking, with several examples of co-delivery. One provider described how it was working with four local colleges to offer a degree apprenticeship in which levels 4 and 5 were delivered in one of the colleges and level 6 at the university. They found that they were better placed to meet the needs of businesses in their region – feedback from one employer group to the provider was that their partnership with FE gave employers greater confidence in them.
“We held an employer forum and explained how we were working with the local FE colleges. Their reaction was ‘why aren’t you telling us more about this?’, they hadn’t appreciated the depth of association, and this has given them confidence.” Such partnerships can also play a role in expanding the reach of degree apprenticeships to a wider set of potential students.
SECTION 3: SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS Universities and businesses are investing in the infrastructure needed to manage a DA offering effectively. The process is a resource intensive one and there is an opportunity to improve return on investment by ensuring that partnerships being formed around DAs bring wider benefits to the organisations involved.
RECOMMENDED ACTION Universities and businesses should capitalise on the partnerships they are forming around DAs to reap broader benefits (other innovative forms of work experience, greater involvement of employers in curriculum, knowledge exchange activity etc).
More effective employer engagement is also critical to the success of the FE sector.
RECOMMENDED ACTION Where universities are working in partnership with FE, and especially where part of the DA provision is delivered in FE, there are opportunities to ensure that FE Colleges also benefit from increased employer engagement.
WORKING TOGETHER FOR GROWTH AND PROSPERITY
National Centre for Universities and Business
Studio 10, Tiger House, Burton Street, London, WC1H 9BY email@example.com
+44 (0)207 383 7667