Are degree apprenticeships key to filling UK industry skills gaps?
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Are degree apprenticeships key to filling UK industry skills gaps?

Are degree apprenticeships key to filling UK industry skills gaps?

As National Apprenticeship Week sweeps the UK, the question of how best to address the lack of specialised expertise in UK industry once again tickles the tongues of the region’s education ministers and professionals.

In 2015, the UK’s construction, engineering and technology, science, and health and social care industries were all badly affected by rising industry skills gaps, with more than seven out of ten reporting that a lack of qualified graduates was likely to affect their individual businesses and the economy as a whole, according to UK business management company Capita.

“We know that many companies are already reporting problems in filling jobs,” said Mary Cantle, Director of Capita Learning Services. “And as the economy recovers the problem will only get worse. According to recent research nearly two thirds of businesses believe that faster growth will lead to a shortage of necessary skills.

“Around four in five businesses think that skills shortages will limit the growth of the UK economy within the next three years, and three quarters are anticipating a UK-wide skills crisis.”

It is for this reason that many UK education representatives believe that investing in high-quality apprenticeships and training schemes is key to addressing skills gaps in industry, and will also grant graduates the crucial ‘soft skills’ that are desperately craved by the modern, recruiting employer.

According to a recent report from Universities UK, new degree apprenticeship programmes have the potential to fill these skills gaps and meet the needs of the contemporary employer.

“Universities have been actively involved in the development and delivery of these new, industry-designed degree apprenticeships,” said Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK.

“Combining a full degree with the real, practical skills gained in work, make degree apprentices highly employable. They benefit from several years of workplace experience, alongside studying a course tailored specifically to employers’ needs.”

Last year, the UK government announced plans to make three million more apprenticeships available to graduates by 2020, and the coalition government launched nine new industry-aligned degree apprenticeships. The fundamental benefit of an apprenticeship scheme is that trainees get full-time employment status as opposed to student status, meaning they are not lumbered with training costs or hefty tuition fees.

Employers are also keen to jump on the apprenticeship bandwagon, as hiring apprentices can significantly reduce costs linked to recruitment.

“[Degree apprenticeships] have the potential to fill specific skills gaps and meet employers’ needs,” continues Dandridge. “Universities have the facilities and the innovative links with employers that help give UK companies a genuine competitive edge and create high value jobs for employees.”

Despite only being introduced last year, numbers participating in UK degree apprenticeships are growing at a positive rate, with estimated 1,500-2,000 enrolments in place for 2016 across 40 UK universities.

The report highlights the need to raise awareness of this scheme among potential apprentices, their parents and the careers advisers who support them from within the institution, so the UK’s most talented students can take advantage of in-built degree training opportunities.

Not only will degree apprenticeships provide a means for UK universities to diversify provisions and offer alternatives to traditional, full-time, on-campus study; they will also present an attractive option for non-traditional students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, providing universities themselves with an opportunity to hit goals for widening participation in UK higher education.

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, said: “Degree apprenticeships give young people the opportunity to succeed like never before.

“We launched them to help employers find the talent they need to grow and innovate their workforces. As part of our offer of high quality apprenticeships at all levels, meeting employers’ needs and driving up productivity, I want young people across the country to benefit from the life-changing opportunities that a degree apprenticeship can unlock.”

Image via Shutterstock.

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