Hema Tank is Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance

With all the excitement of National Apprenticeship Week #NAW2020 behind us, how do we change the sometimes narrow thinking around apprenticeships?

Cognitive bias means we often fail to think broadly and clearly about the best options available and so miss out on great opportunities such as degree apprenticeships, says Hema Tank

Not all great ideas take off. The benefits of “eat less and walk more”, for example, are clear to everyone in early January – but rarely in practice by February.

One of the reasons for that is the difficulty everyone has in changing habits – both mental and physical. We are cognitive misers. We cling to our own biases (aka our view of the world) because, as psychologists point out, thinking (and acting) more broadly is hard work.

But not fully considering our options can be very costly – and not just for our waistlines. As the article from Soll, Milkman and Payne points out: “Most people unwittingly limit themselves by allowing only a subset of worthy goals to guide them, simply because they’re unaware of the full range of possibilities”. When young people are choosing careers that can have life-long consequences.

Fire up your career

People can feel under pressure to fit in, or may be anxious about an unfamiliar path. That could be why nearly half of young people now borrow money to go on to a three-year academic degree that may not equip them with the skills and attitudes they need to build a satisfying career.

This tunnel vision is one of the reasons why the government has launched its #fireitup campaign to get people to understand the value of apprenticeships.

As the Education Secretary Damian Hinds noted last National Apprenticeship Week, leading employers are “waking up to the benefits apprenticeships can bring” but there can still be “outdated and snobby attitudes… putting people off apprenticeships”.

The cost benefit analysis

Though apprenticeships are still often thought of as the “easy” option, with limited career opportunities, degree-level apprenticeships can be much more academically demanding than a vanilla graduate course. Apprentices work and study at the same time – and employers recognise the challenges and advantages of that.

Degree-level apprenticeships allow direct engagement with working life and, at the same time, help people grow intellectually…they are not an extended adolescence.

We are in the unusual position of being able to offer a bespoke university experience – our intake is small, and our courses are led and given by industry practitioners. We have a 140 year history of educating the staff of banks and financial institutions, both through our degree programmes and professional qualifications. For our degree apprenticeships, we offer the same bespoke experience, grounded in industry practice.

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The employers we work with, which include some of the largest finance sector employers in the UK, understand that apprentices are highly effective employees. According to the government’s 2017 apprenticeship evaluation, employers report that apprentices increase productivity (78%), improve product or service quality (74%), and bring new ideas (65%).

Given those glowing outcomes, it seems that people who want to take an alternative route to university can really bring better outcomes – both to their own career and to the work of the organisation they join.

Hema Tank is Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance

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