Why Degree Apprenticeships help employers, the economy and society

It has been almost three years since the launch of degree apprenticeships and the value of this ambitious new scheme is really starting to gather traction. Degree apprenticeships are based on a three-way partnership between universities, employers and individuals. Balancing these different needs is not straightforward, but I think a genuine partnership is achievable and can be transformational for all involved.

One of the real benefits of degree apprenticeships is their power to break down barriers to social mobility. They can create a more fluid and dynamic labour market by opening up higher education to a more diverse groups of people who would perhaps otherwise not consider higher education. Yes, degree apprenticeships enable employers to create the kind of employees they want, with the skills their business needs. But they do more than that. By enabling more people to study at a higher level while earning a wage, they could start to close the UK productivity gap.

Degree Apprenticeships as corporate social responsibility

We know that some young people are worried about student debt. For those from low income backgrounds, it can be seen as a real barrier to higher education. Figures from UCAS suggest that the poorest school leavers are only half as likely to go to university as their peers. The reasons for this are complex, of course, but the issue of student debt cannot be ignored. In fact, recent research from UCL has demonstrated that student loan debts deter poorer students from university. Here in the South West we know that many young people come from deprived backgrounds so at the University of Plymouth we have a particular role to play in opening up these opportunities and widening participation. Having a guaranteed job whilst you study is fast becoming a great way to overcome that financial barrier to higher education.

It might be helpful then, for employers to think about degree apprenticeships in the context of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). By engaging with degree apprenticeships, employers can contribute to the effort of breaking down some of the barriers to higher education. The prospect of ‘earning while you learn’ could help bring more young people into higher education. Businesses will of course also benefit from having access to a wider talent pool within their area.

The wider UK economy will also benefit as we start to fill the skills gap and grow the labour market with people who have been developed by employers, for employers. Closer partnerships between businesses and universities will in turn support knowledge exchange, which we know is so vital to UK innovation.

Nurturing staff through their careers

Another group ideally suited to degree apprenticeships is those further on in their careers who want to upskill or are looking for a change of direction. Being tied into a mortgage and having family responsibilities mean that many cannot simply take time out of work to study or retrain. Degree apprenticeships open up new opportunities for these people to move forward in their careers while still earning that vital wage.

This can, of course, help businesses retain staff by nurturing them through their careers. And because degree apprenticeships have been developed by businesses for businesses, they allow employers to develop the skills they really need in their workforce.

Research suggests that apprenticeships continue to deliver benefits as the apprentice progresses through his or her career. According to Government figures, 77 per cent of former apprentices stay with the same employer, 46 per cent receive a pay rise, and 36 per cent report getting a promotion. Former apprentices can often progress in their careers quite quickly: statistics from the National Apprenticeships Service show that 23 per cent of apprentices surveyed were promoted within 12 months of finishing their apprenticeship.

Over time, I think businesses will start to see how degree apprenticeships can help create a workforce that is not only better skilled, but more diverse.