Apprenticeships: Earning while you learn

Written by Conor Gilligan on 7 March 2017

According to ‘The Economist’ post on 12 January 2017, the return on education for today’s student is more relevant than it ever has been.

This is mainly due to the costs associated with a modern degree. Students are not waiting at least 10 years until they receive a return on their university degree.

The traditional approach of going to university is still relevant, and also valued by students. However, a new model is starting to formalise; this is driven largely by employer demands. For example, a student can go to university, complete their degree and then go out and get a job, or they can complete an apprenticeship.

The apprenticeship model provides them with the education, the same as the degree. Where it differs is that it is work-based learning, giving the student the practical skills of working in a business. 

There’s still a stigmatism with the modern student that the degree model via a traditional university is better, and more credible. Though students are also realising the benefits of the apprenticeship model, ‘earning whilst you are learning’, along with gaining skills of the workplace.

The universities are very focused on attracting foreign students from outside the EU, as they can charge higher tuition fees - sometimes as much as double. According to the FT, the number of international students from outside the EU is now more than twice what it was ten years ago (over 312,000 in 2014).

The result is that more universities are taking out loans to improve their campuses in the hope of attracting more foreign students. 

Are universities missing something?

Perhaps not - provided the export model continues to work, it will bring its benefits. But in order to skill up the UK economy quickly, apprenticeships are providing real benefits.
For a large UK corporate, these include:

  • Work-based learning
  • Students gaining experience of their business
  • A quick model to attracting talent and retaining it
  • Increasing their talent pool, e.g., in 2016, PwC had 40,000 applications for their apprenticeship programme (source BBC bottom line podcast)

For the UK corporates, there’s also a financial incentive to build an apprenticeship programme. The new Apprenticeship Levy, which will be introduced at the beginning of April, means any business with over £3m PAYE will have to pay 0.5% to the government, which will be provided back via tokens to be spent on the apprenticeship programme.

Companies who have adopted this earlier have built their own training provider businesses which are accredited by the Skills Funding Agency, amongst others. These include Jaguar Land Rover, BAE and Tesco. Others have decided to bring in a professional, accredited apprenticeship provider.  

There are benefits and costs associated with both models. It’s worth bearing in mind that to build an apprenticeship model in-house means you will, in effect, accredit your own apprentices. You gain by not having to pay someone else, however it means you will have to employ the team and create the processes to ensure this is in place.

The education sector is changing rapidly at the moment, meaning lots of providers, both commercial and not for profit, are having to move their delivery model to support this.


About the author

Conor Gilligan is global head of division, professional services at webanywhere 

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