In this article, Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University, explores the functional skills hurdle facing degree apprenticeship learners, looking at how businesses can support employees in overcoming this to upskill and futureproof top talent. She also discusses how providing access to degree apprenticeships can be a practical and successful way for companies to address the widening skills gap, attract fresh talent, and retain employees.
Opening up access to education is increasingly important in a market where the skills gap is continuing to grow. The UK’s Apprenticeship Levy helps to level out the playing field, for both employers and employees. It enables employers to afford to upskill teams and offer tailored training and development opportunities to their staff. And it allows every employee to have the opportunity to progress higher on the career ladder, removing the cost barrier of studying and enabling them to continue to work alongside their learning.
Challenges for companies and employees
While the Levy’s intention is good – and it has offered support for companies who wanted to address the skills gap, entice new staff to support future staffing needs and, ultimately, drive growth – there have been some teething issues. One key barrier to learning via the Levy is the functional skills requirement.
Currently, as most in FE will understand, to qualify for an apprenticeship via the Government’s Levy with many universities, learners need to meet minimum English and maths skills requirements beforehand – or commit to the functional skills certificate as part of the learning programme – if they do not have a grade four or above GCSE equivalent. This requirement is designed to ensure that apprentices acquire essential literacy and numeracy skills to meet the Government’s skills agenda.
However, with apprenticeships typically used as a substitute route into education for those who haven’t completed or had access to other educational routes into the workforce, some potential apprenticeship candidates may not possess the functional skills required. Inevitably, this can make it more challenging for those without a strong educational background to unlock the potential development an apprenticeship can offer.
As a result, the functional skills requirement can present a key barrier for apprenticeship learning. It can be difficult for some learners to achieve the functional skills certificate, especially for those who didn’t enjoy school, and this can ultimately deter some from pursuing apprenticeship opportunities in the first place.
This is not only frustrating for the would-be apprentices, but also it holds back businesses and the employment market that so desperately needs workers to upskill.
Strong partnerships are key to unlocking the full potential of the Apprenticeship Levy
There are, however, some practical steps companies can take to ensure their employees are getting the best chance for upskilling and progressing in their careers using the Levy.
For employees who need to obtain functional skills to qualify for the apprenticeship, employers can source an educational training provider, such as Arden University, who can deliver this as part of the apprenticeship learning. When done in this way, the businesses expense of the training provision can be drawn from the Levy, maximising the funding available and ensuring apprenticeships remain open to all.
Arden University already works alongside many organisations to offer their staff degree apprenticeships and provide access to functional skills learning as part of the apprenticeship learning. In addition, partnering with an institution that is well versed in supporting working adults will ensure it can offer the relevant and proven support learners need.
It’s also vital for businesses to partner with educational institutions that can offer tailored support, to ensure degree apprenticeships meet their business’ demands. For example, specific courses may need to be adjusted for different industry requirements and to ensure that apprentices are learning how to overcome the unique challenges they may face in their role and sector – as opposed to general knowledge that may not be applicable in practice. This strategic approach not only makes sure learners are better equipped to support the aims and ambitions of the business in the future, but often means apprentices are more engaged with their learning.
Making programmes as effective as possible
Finally, to make sure programmes are as effective as possible, businesses should also take the strategic decision to appoint, resource and support a dedicated Learning and Development Champion. This can help businesses to identify and enrol employees who will stick to the degree apprenticeship and, ideally, stay with the organisation post-completion. It will also enable businesses to oversee apprentice welfare, assess if any are struggling and get in touch with the training provider for extra support if required. An apprenticeship champion is the ‘eyes and ears’ within the organisation that ensures the apprenticeship programme stays on track for everyone’s benefit.
Degree apprenticeships are not just for those who want to earn while learning, they are also an important opportunity for those who may not have been able to access education at a younger age. To futureproof talent and retain skilled workers, more businesses need to look at how they can better use apprenticeships to support staff to upskill and earn more – and ensuring they partner with an education provider that can help with overcoming the functional skills hurdle as part of the apprenticeship learning is key.
By Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University
Stacey Hayes-Allen is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University, where she helps the university’s business partners to reach their corporate goals through investing in the education and progression of top talent. This can be by bringing on apprentices, supporting existing employees to learn new skills via specialised under graduate or post graduate apprenticeships or by sponsoring staff through higher education and leadership courses.
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