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The Value of Degree Apprenticeships to the Economy

Warwickshire College Group (WCG) is an award-winning training provider based in the West Midlands. It is one of the largest providers of apprenticeship training in the region, currently working with 1100+ employers nationally and training over 2500 apprentices per annum.

We are proud to have strong apprenticeship achievement rates and fortunate to be referred to as ‘pioneers’ in trailblazing apprenticeships standards and ‘leading the way’ as an educational institution. Our apprenticeship provision is designed to meet employer and economic needs; which means seventy percent of our apprenticeships are levels 3 to 6, eighty percent are in technical subjects and we have apprentices in a wide range of industry sectors from hospitality to IT to farriery, from horticulture to engineering.

WCG is one of only a handful of colleges in the UK to be granted powers by the Privy Council to award its own foundation degrees. We also have strong partnerships with regional universities to deliver at level 6, offering our students direct progression routes to a full honours degree and providing a degree apprenticeship programme.

On 13 September 2018, we celebrated the graduation of our first-ever cohort of Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) degree apprentices, the completion of which has been six years in duration. This pioneering group of apprentices spent two years at WCG undertaking foundation degree competencies and a foundation degree, then four years at our partner institution the University of Warwick completing their honours degree.

As is well known, there is a critical shortfall of engineering talent in the UK. According to the Royal Academy of Engineers, there is currently a need for one million more engineers in the UK between now and 2020.

WCG have a long track record of working with Advanced Manufacturing employers, training to advanced apprenticeship standards. In 2012 we started working with a regional employer who was seeking solutions for some hard-to-fill vacancies. The organisation was struggling to recruit and retain graduates with the necessary skill sets and when they did recruit them, up to fifty percent were exiting the business when a management role was not forthcoming. This issues, coupled with the national shortage of skilled engineers was causing problems in growth and productivity.
Interestingly, the organisation noted that the loss of skilled workers was not happening with their Advanced apprentices, who were on the whole staying in with the company. In fact they had double the retention levels compared to their graduate colleagues. As a result a trailblazer group of employers wrote six new apprenticeship standards (two advanced and four degree apprenticeships), specifically for these hard-to-fill vacancies and recognising that ‘growing your own’ often provides the optimum return.

Fast-forward to September 2018 with 33 out of the 35 degree apprentices who originally started having had their final sign off. This has involved an end point assessment which involves rigorous evaluation with independent assessors and proves their attainment of the knowledge, skills and importantly, the behaviours required to meet the new standards.

These so-called behaviours encapsulate the soft skills that are so valued by employers. For a long time now, they have complained of a lack of work-readiness and commercial awareness among traditional graduates – something that apprentice graduates are not tarred with. According to the UKCES Working Futures report, 1.8m jobs need to be created between 2014 and 2024, with 70 percent being in occupations most likely to employ graduates. But will graduates have the skills to take on these jobs?

Our apprentices have developed the professional skills and competences to be immediately successful in the workplace, alongside the academic, critical and reflective skills that come through study in a research intensive environment like Warwick.

Degree apprenticeships bring business and education together, bridging the gap between academic theory and practical application. Through higher and degree apprenticeships, individuals are offered the opportunity to get a degree and differentiate themselves by gaining crucial work experience as well as earning money along the way.

Some colleges and universities are fully embracing the apprenticeship reforms, and by working in partnership with businesses are enabling economic growth and prosperity through apprenticeships. We must all celebrate the role and value of apprenticeships to the UK and recognise the exceptional achievements of apprentices everywhere.

Angela Joyce, Chief Executive, Warwickshire College Group

Hear from Angela Joyce and a range of practitioners and experts including the ESFA, IfA and OfS at the Annual Higher and Degree Apprenticeships Conference 2018 taking place on Tuesday 11th December 2018 in Central London.