From education to employment

Degree apprenticeships: Why they are the key to improving social mobility

Jo Burgess

In this article, Jo Burgess discusses the importance of degree apprenticeships and their benefits which includes improving social mobility within communities, improving professional careers for young people and plugging skills gaps for businesses.

As National Apprenticeship week gets under way, Jo Burgess, Director of Apprentices at Teesside University discusses the important role that apprenticeships play in boosting social mobility to widen the range of professional career pathways that young people can access, and in supporting businesses to increase their high-level skills.

Steps to improve the career options for young people are already being made; during its recent one-day conference, UUK, which represents 140 universities across the UK, revealed its 10-point plan for degree apprenticeships and their role in developing new skills to boost economic growth. The strategy includes growing apprenticeships and reviewing and simplifying the regulation process to encourage more universities and prospective employers to offer them.

Recent data unveiled by UCAS found that there has been a 22% increase in the number of apprenticeship views on Career Finder, suggesting that more young people are looking for apprenticeship opportunities than ever before – and highlights the need for universities and businesses to consider offering them if they’re not already doing so.

However, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed as half of UCAS applicants say they would consider an apprenticeship, but that not enough vacancies are being offered by companies and universities to meet the growing demand.

The challenges of degree apprenticeships

Under the current system, the growth of degree apprenticeships is being limited by factors which are potentially preventing young people from pursuing their chosen careers. These factors predominantly relate to the scale, complexity, and high cost in which degree apprenticeships are regulated. There’s a real need for clear and effective regulation and accountability, but it needs to be fit for purpose, and appropriate for universities – which is why the call to government to review the costs and burden of regulation is essential and something we support.

Earlier this week the government also announced that from autumn this year, young people will be able to use UCAS to search and apply for apprenticeships, alongside undergraduate degrees, meaning they’ll be able to discover and decide between their training and education options in the same place for the first time.

At Teesside University, we’ve seen first-hand how our degree and master’s level apprenticeship offer has not only helped students to gain the career skills they need but has also been a vital service for the businesses and organisations that we work with. We now have a community of over 2,000 apprentices and offer over three programmes to over 200 employees – which is now an integral part of our objective to raise the skills of individuals in the community, and something we strongly encourage other universities to do.

It’s great to have the backing from senior political figureheads like Robert Halfon, the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, who understands the important role that degree apprenticeships play, after describing them as “key to fighting social injustice in higher education and meeting Britain’s skills deficit”. In a recent letter to the Vice Chancellors, he also called for more degree apprenticeships to be delivered by a wide range of universities. Now is the time for businesses and universities to consider getting involved in apprenticeships due to the increased support being offered from the government.

The benefits of degree apprenticeships

There are so many benefits of degree apprenticeships which is why it’s vital that any barriers which are preventing them from being adopted by universities and businesses, must be overcome to ensure young people are being provided with as many opportunities as possible. Many of the benefits include the chance to learn practical working skills on the job whilst earning an apprenticeship wage, and the opportunity for young people to build their professional network, employability skills, and technical skills, all whilst likely working towards a permanent role with their employer.

Most blue chip institutions have embraced opportunities presented by apprenticeships as a key method to filling any skills gaps – which is why employing apprentices makes commercial sense for both businesses and universities.  A recent survey conducted by YouGov found that 98 per cent of employers which currently employ apprentices experienced additional benefits to their business. Among the most cited benefits were ‘addressing skills shortages’ and ‘providing value for money’.

There are many industries that offer degree apprenticeships including business engineering, construction, health and sciences, and education. As a university we’ve been able to grow our apprenticeship offering with new options to include AI & Data Science, bioinformatics, supply chain leader, and aviation senior leader – which has been and can be beneficial for other universities when it comes to attracting prospective students.

These benefits of degree apprenticeships highlight the importance of offering young people more options when it comes to their education, particularly as what’s considered to be the traditional university route, isn’t likely to suit every person, coupled with the fact that more young people are looking for apprenticeship opportunities than ever before. The recent plans announced by both the government and UUK are a step in the right direction for organisations and universities looking to expand their apprenticeship offering and meet the demands of the growing skills gaps, while also providing young people with various opportunities to achieve their professional careers.

By Jo Burgess, Director of Apprentices at Teesside University

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