Apprenticeships & higher education convergance

A Personal Opinion.

Cards on the table, I’m a long-standing advocate of educational collaboration, so for me, whilst acknowledging the education marketplace has inherent aspects of competition and rivalry, thankfully the days when apprenticeships were considered divorced from, or alien to HE/University links are diminishing. I regularly interact with and advise schools, private training providers, colleges and universities in a professional capacity; and I see increasing interest from teachers, students, parents and others in apprenticeships, including those offering a higher-level route into a career.


Increasing Learner Choice and Opportunity.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other anymore with apprenticeship standards in place, and others being developed up to level 7 which is the equivalent of Master’s Degree level. Degree apprenticeships are available and collaboration and increased partnering between FE and HE Institutions, and representative organisations facilitating this, allows for a variety of educational entry, progression, transfer and exit points.

Apprenticeship Reforms.

Major government policy change is underway transitioning apprenticeships from the existing frameworks structure, towards their eventual full replacement by clear and concise standards, defined by employer groups, and recognised by industry.

Each recognised occupation should eventually have its own apprenticeship standard linked to a specific occupational level and industry specified requirements. Standards are intended to be deliberately challenging, stimulating and require a ‘minimum’ of one year’s training duration. All new standards are publicly available, so companies, learners, trainers and others can access the relevant information to help with career development aspirations and choices.

Interestingly, apprenticeship funding criteria and age restrictions have been relaxed meaning they are now available to school leavers, and older or more experienced workers looking to further develop their skills, qualifications and career prospects.

What is an Apprenticeship?

In the most basic terms, an apprenticeship is a mix of real work and learning. apprentices are employed, earn a wage, and gain structured experience whilst working towards an apprenticeship framework that will include many qualifications; or more latterly apprenticeship standards developed by groups of employers in relevant industries.

Apprenticeships are available at intermediate, advanced and higher levels and higher apprenticeships are designed to meet employers’ needs at level 4 or above and include qualifications at a level equivalent to more commonly recognised Higher Education.

A key development of new apprenticeship standards is incorporation of end-point assessments which may take a variety of forms, depending upon each industry or sector specific requirements; these also allow for grading as opposed to overall competence which the frameworks they are replacing favour.

Explaining Apprenticeship Benefits is Critical.

High quality careers information advice & guidance (CIAG) is critical, and it’s vital the positive benefits of an apprenticeship are effectively communicated. Parity of esteem between academic and practical routes, and progression between them must be understood and appreciated by young people, and by those providing them with careers advice and guidance. This includes teachers, parents and any others that may influence career pathway choices.


Why Choose a Higher Apprenticeship?

Higher apprenticeships provide many benefits such as offering an alternative route towards good job roles in interesting companies, industries and sectors. A higher apprenticeship also provides nationally recognised qualifications comparable to the early stages of higher education, and real work experience with a salary and paid study.

Looking longer term, apprenticeships provide a sound platform on which to build, and progress up to, into, and through Higher Education; and support study aimed at gaining professional qualifications and ultimately professional status.

The Political Landscape.

The government has set a challenging target of 3 million apprenticeships to be delivered by 2020, supported by the introduction of the apprenticeship levy which came into force in April 2017. This change provides universities and FE colleges holding certain HE awarding powers the opportunity to position themselves within this fast-developing agenda.

Degree apprenticeships provide an important opportunity for universities to widen participation, forge closer associations with employers and help drive productivity and economic progress. Degree apprenticeships can be very attractive to non-traditional students, they also support widening participation goals and offer a way for universities to diversify their offer and develop alternatives to traditional full-time study.

In Summary.

This is a great time to encourage and support stronger FE & HE collaboration, especially as the government is putting its considerable weight behind apprenticeships that bridge both areas. Apprenticeships appear to be gaining appeal, especially whilst there is still conjecture surrounding university tuition fees.

Apprenticeships offer a great way to enter and progress within different industries, not least because they help learners gain qualifications, skills and knowledge required to succeed in a chosen industry. Hands-on training provides opportunity to put skills into practice and support progression in the workplace.

New apprentices such as school leavers can be employed and are paid a salary by their employer. Existing workers, or those looking to change career now have increased opportunity to access apprenticeships, and this has been helped by policy changes and introduction of the apprenticeship levy aimed at helping with the cost of training (or a major proportion of it) for most pursuing this route.

Ultimately, the growing convergence of FE and HE routes is a major plus for the economy, the education sector, and for learners. The challenge now is to continue collaborative efforts, foster innovation, and ensure opportunities available are clearly explained and benefits understood and taken advantage of.

Anyone with a genuine interest in education must keep promoting the positive opportunities available, and help demystify what can often appear an overly difficult educational landscape. Let’s keep the debate, and the progress going!


Enterprise and entrepreneurship in education

Are we doing enough to equip young people with the skills and knowledge  required for the modern economy?


Much of my professional career has involved efforts directed at encouraging learners, educationalists and employers to collaborate effectively to help young people embark upon career paths equipped with the right skills, knowledge and mind-set required to prosper and flourish as they progress through life, and onward into and through the world of work.

But are we really providing the right conditions, tools, support, and opportunities required to do the current and future generations of learner’s justice?

That’s where I believe enterprise and entrepreneurship development activities really come into play and require a specific focus at strategic and operational levels.

Defining enterprise and entrepreneurship in education

There are as you would expect in the world of education many variations on a theme. However, my take is that the purpose of enterprise in education is to provide developmental opportunities that assist learners in developing entrepreneurial attitude, skills and knowledge required for the modern world.

It’s important to note that this applies equally to learners eventually joining a company, or those going on to start their own business (and many do). A proper focus and guidance in these areas from an early age should help build the confidence and self-belief I believe our current approach to learning, especially in schools lacks. However, as I will go on to explain, any critiscism is not directed at schools or teachers, more so towards the policy, framework and structure lacking effective coherence.

An enterprising individual can learn to welcome and embrace change as a positive opportunity, and with regards to my own work with schools, colleges, and employers I’ve witnessed sporadic examples of enterprise and entrepreneurship education act as the enabler helping learners develop self-reliance, confidence, and open up their thinking to help realise a determination to succeed. But we need more.

What’s happening in the world of educational enterprise?

Whatever is happening, many employers I work with say there is a disconnect and gulf in learners transitioning between school and work, with many young people embarking upon a career path lacking many of the basics required by these businesses.

It appears despite regular rhetoric and soundbites which surface from Government, educational leaders, the CBI, etc, progress has been slow to capitalise upon and nurture the seeds planted, or the few green shoots emerging in this area of education.

Whilst not featuring as a central plank in the Government’s recent subject reforms, careers, enterprise and entrepreneurship education is a ‘recommended’ part of the curriculum.

However, there have been many calls for it to become fully embedded as a key part of the national curriculum, and to be fair there have been some positive moves recently that give some hope. But how realistic is this and how can the national curriculum accommodate teaching of enterprise and entrepreneurial skills in what is already such a crowded curriculum programme? What impact would more time allocation and the effective teaching of these skills have on both learner attainment, and how do we effectively engage and maintain the interest of many of those classified as not in education, employment or training (NEETs)?

There are more questions than answers!

Here are just a few of my questions to consider: –

  • Should entrepreneurship be integrated within the curriculum, or should it be treat as an individually taught topic?
  • If treat as a stand-alone topic, what will the marking and grading set up be?
  • Will teachers possess the skills necessary to provide an effective grounding in enterprise and entrepreneurship, or will they require developing?
  • Which current areas of the curriculum would make way for enterprise and entrepreneurship?
  • What would an enterprise and entrepreneurship curriculum consist of?
  • Will an real work experience be necessary to embed learning in the workplace?

There are more questions to consider, but this is a good thing as we need to give serious consideration to these and many others like this if we are going to effectively move forward!

What to include in an enterprise and entrepreneurship curriculum?

The general consensus appears to suggest that enterprise and entrepreneurship education should include the ability to be innovative, creative, to take risks and to drive and make ideas happen; coupled with financial, business and economic understanding.

The question here is how much of this is being focused upon now, and in what consistency of format and approach?

Current initiatives

In North East England we have some excellent activities underway in this area including the North East LEP leading role in progressing Government’s Careers Strategy centred around the eight ‘Gatsby Good Career Guidance Benchmarks’ piloted and honed in North East England.

In reaching for the stars, the North East LEP is also leading on the Enterprise Adviser programme for the area which embeds business leaders into secondary schools and colleges on a voluntary basis to help teachers shape the delivery of relevant careers education.

North East Enterprise Advisers are part of a nationwide network of high calibre volunteers with executive experience of employment or self-employment. They support schools and colleges to navigate the range of possible employer interactions and to help them create a whole school strategy for careers, enterprise and employer engagement.

There are other good regional initiatives from the likes of North Tyneside Learning Trust (NTLT), the RTC STEM Ambassador Network, and nationally through the likes of the Careers & Enterprise Company that deserve acknowledgement, further recognition, support and encouragement. But ultimately such approaches also require a coherent framework in which to collaborate and deliver, and realistic and appropriate Government funding support.

My take and personal efforts in this area

My many experiences as an enabler in education and collaborative ventures with employers, schools and other stakeholder partners has helped develop my understanding from the various perspectives of those involved. Currently, I head up an educational division that works with employers to understand their issues when recruiting young people. In the main they say they would like to see potential recruits come to them better prepared and with a greater understanding of what to expect from the world of work, and also how they may cope with the various demands it poses, and quickly feel able and willing to make a contribution to the business.

My most recent approach to finding a successful formula was to take a study programme and add various tailored components including functional skills (English, Maths & IT), followed by a one week nationally recognised employability certificate, followed by eight weeks including a nationally recognised ‘preparation for the workplace’ qualification, role specific practical taster sessions, and relevant basic industry training certificates valued by employers. The overall programme then concludes with a four week real and supported employer work placement that allows the learner to put everything learned into practice in the workplace.

The programme is titled ‘Pre-Apprenticeship’ as in effect, the four weeks work placement is a chance to put everything learned into practice, and to shine so the sponsoring employer is impressed enough to offer an apprenticeship or job at the end, which large numbers are subsequently doing.

This approach is proving very successful in meeting a demand from employers and learners alike in offering something currently missing. But I have no doubt that a more effective and relevant approach to enterprise and entrepreneurship education in schools would be a better, more appropriate, and ultimately offer a more sustainable approach to this problem for all concerned.

In summary

Most agree that in order to do our young people justice, that something needs to change. However, it’s the responsibility of the many relevant and interested stakeholders involved, and not all down to overstretched schools and teachers to sort this out on their own.

Government must engage, listen and provide the template within which the various key stakeholders can form effective partnerships with which to help equip learners for the many demands posed; and more appropriately to deliver upon the opportunities the modern world offers up to them!