5 ways to get the most out of degree apprenticeships

Written by
Changeboard Team

28 Nov 2016

28 Nov 2016 • by Changeboard Team

We are about to see a profound change in the way organisations attract and develop people. The apprenticeship system is the catalyst for that change. 

The apprenticeship levy, which comes into force in April 2017, has grabbed the headlines. But there was an equally important development last year: the higher-level degree apprenticeship. 

The new degree apprenticeship programmes offer an alternative to traditional degree courses. While the latter typically leave students with thousands of pounds of debt, and without relevant work experience, degree apprenticeships allow people to gain a degree without the debt, graduate with four years’ work experience and get paid throughout.

For employers, degree apprenticeships offer new means of developing a pipeline of qualified and experienced young talent – people who can make a valuable contribution from day one of their degree programme. You can also use degree apprenticeships to improve productivity and increase retention by using them to train your existing members of staff.

It’s easy to imagine a degree apprenticeship at a top employer becoming as sought after as a place at a top university. Conversely, employers who don’t offer them may find themselves frozen out of the contest for the best candidates. 

If your organisation is looking to develop a degree apprenticeship programme, don’t be tempted to re-badge a degree course from a higher education institute. The best apprenticeships offer a carefully honed blend of study and work-based learning. Here are five key things to consider as you develop your programme:

1. Are we clear about our objectives?

Different organisations want different things from their apprenticeship programmes. Some want to fill skills gaps, some to increase diversity, and others to maximise the return on their levy pot. To get the best value for your organisation, identify where apprenticeships can have the most impact.
Only once you have defined goals should you start to build your programme. Including components such as online learning can help reduce the cost of delivery but, ultimately, the best way to secure value is to drive your programme by your objectives.

2. Do we have the right mix of teaching techniques?

Traditional apprenticeships often featured day releases to a local college. But times – and teaching – have changed. Face-to-face teaching is now supplemented with online elements. Look to include this type of ‘blended learning’ in your apprenticeship programme. It offers a richer, more contemporary experience, and greater flexibility for your apprentices.

3. Can we offer work based learning?

A chance to apply learning in the real world helps apprentices bridge the gap between theory and practice, at pace. This can make them more productive more quickly. 

Ensure your apprenticeship programme supports real-world application of learning. This could include running specific projects for apprentices, and providing education for line managers. You’ll need to engage with business units across the organisation.

4. Do we have the right pastoral care?

If you already take on new graduates, you’ll know that even employees in their 20s need time to adjust. Managing that adjustment is even more important for younger employees. Most 17 or 18-year-olds have little or limited experience of working in a full-time role. 

Dealing with new people and tasks and managing a workload for the first time can be intimidating. Be aware that your degree apprentices will need a longer adjustment period and support them through that transition.

5. Does our programme deliver a consistent experience?

Offer a consistent experience that reflects your organisation’s values. That way, you can build a cohort of loyal apprentices in tune with your ambitions and alert to your challenges. 

Work with a higher education provider able to offer national reach, rather than with a network of local institutions. Also, look for a provider that can offer an online learning platform. You’ll get a consistent quality of content and teaching for your apprentices, wherever or whenever they want to learn.

The proof of the pudding

A high-quality degree apprenticeship programme should help you attract talent, hold on to your best people and build loyalty. You could also see gains in productivity as you build a highly skilled workforce – plus a boost to your competitiveness. Degree apprenticeships are starting to look like good value.


Eoghan Thompson, senior manager, people consulting, KPMG 

David Willett, head of propositions, The Open University

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