How universities can contribute to further education and apprenticeships

You may or may not be aware that universities and colleges now offer higher level and degree apprenticeships, covering levels 4 to 7 (Foundation Degree, Diploma, Bachelors and Masters levels) in a wide range of subjects and occupation areas.  I, personally, wasn’t aware of this until very recently, but it makes sense to me and I think it’s a great idea.

What is a higher level/degree apprenticeship?

As with other apprenticeships, it is a fantastic way to earn and learn in an area you’d like to have a career, both as a way to check it is the career for you, and also to reduce debts and cut down studying costs. You’ll be employed by a company who pays you a wage for the work you do and ensures you are completing your training successfully. You’ll then also spend time either at a college, university or other training provider, or studying online, or a mix of both, to gain the qualification and theoretical knowledge you need. You should generally expect to spend most of the week (around 30 hours) at work observing, learning and practicing your skills, and the rest studying.

A degree apprenticeship means you still get to graduate at the end, just like if you had studied a more traditional Law or English degree, complete with cap and gown, but you will have been earning a salary throughout along with gaining years of work experience.

Why is it a good idea?

Firstly, this is a fab idea because it will hopefully encourage or enable more people to gain qualifications at this level. The traditional more academic style of university is not for everyone, which puts many off applying for university for fear of not being able to cope, or because they lack confidence in their skills, or because studying for years and then finding a job and gaining work experience doesn’t appeal. Their appeal may be heightened thanks to different employers and different levels requiring different qualifications. Some will decide based purely on the interview, some on GCSEs and some on GCSEs and A-Levels. It should also be possible, if A-Levels and GCSEs are/were difficult to gain, that a hardworking and determined individual could begin an apprenticeship at a lower level and work their way up to a degree apprenticeship if given the opportunity. Also, everyone knows that a degree isn’t a guarantee of a job, let alone a high paying one, which puts many off going through years of study and expense. Therefore, a more vocational route to these higher-level qualifications may appeal to those in doubt of their academic abilities or worried about not getting a job at the other end.

Secondly, a higher-level qualification achieved while completing an apprenticeship, provides a better foundation for your career. It could also even the playing field a little when looking for that first job as you will have practical work experience rather than having worked in a more typical student job. Such an apprenticeship will give students the opportunity to test out the theories and knowledge they are gaining in the classroom in real life situations, alongside developing their skills in that area alongside professionals.

Finally, these apprenticeships will open up university for many, as it gives them a guaranteed salary while studying part time, making university more affordable. The idea of £9000 for tuition fees plus costs is a daunting figure for many, whether just leaving school or wanting to go back to university as an adult with other financial commitments. Yet, with a salary and no tuition fees, since these are paid by the employer and government, this could make it a viable option, especially when taking into account that some are offering higher level apprenticeships a salary between £10 and 20,000 a year.

How does it help Further Education?

Increasing the offering of higher-level and degree apprenticeships as part of the government’s pledge to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, will increase the standing of apprenticeships in the nation’s eyes. By promoting them at such a high level, putting them alongside the more traditional route of degrees, their status and credibility is raised, especially with companies such as Unilever, Network Rail and BAE Systems involved and offering competitive salaries and benefits to their apprentices.

This will have a positive knock-on effect for FE and other apprenticeships because they will seem a more viable option for those who don’t feel university and more traditional modes for gaining qualifications are for them. It will encourage more people to want to go to university and colleges for these higher-level qualifications, meaning more will be wanting to gain the necessary lower-level qualifications in order to make their applications successful. This will include other vocational qualifications, retaking GCSEs and sitting A-Levels, depending on the employer, subject area and level.

For those who struggle with traditional learning methods and academic subjects, knowing they can still access a higher-level qualification, a good job or their dream career through such an apprenticeship, will give them the impetus to work towards those lower-level qualifications and gain the relevant work experience and skills. It could be a positive way of increasing the aspirations of young people and encouraging more of them to focus on industry-led careers and aim for more highly-skilled jobs from the beginning.

It will also help further education because, again, it is promoting alternative methods to gaining qualifications as well as highlighting the importance of developing the necessary skills and the benefits of doing this through a work placement while you learn. This will embolden others to go for an apprenticeship in their career area, whether in FE or HE, and incite more employers, colleges and universities to offer apprenticeships as a valued method of gaining entry into the world of work. It will also benefit HE institutions and employers if its candidates are arriving with greater levels of confidence, transferable skills and practical knowledge, gained through completing work experience or a work placement at any level.

My verdict

Apprenticeships should be promoted as the way forward. In a world where information is at your fingertips, uncertainty looms about the future, and worry over the cost and implications of an unskilled or low-skilled workforce is high, apprenticeships are a valuable resource for working on solutions. Employers want workers and candidates with the skills and qualifications they require – an apprenticeship gives them ownership over the knowledge and skills gained, the opportunity to supervise the training given, as well as ability to design and decide on the elements and qualifications which really support their industry/career. Students want to know they are studying for a reason, to know the effort, time and money they are putting into it is worth it, and to know that it is relevant to what they want to do in the future – an apprenticeship lets them see the knowledge and theory they are studying in action, to put it into practice, while earning a salary (keeping those costs at a minimum) and knowing with the combo of a qualification and work experience they will be more employable at the end.

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