Making Britain Work
Making Britain Work

Public sector apprenticeship - challenge and opportunity at Middlesex University

25 Apr 2019

Guest blog authored by Dr Darryll Bravenboer, Middlesex University

Apprenticeships, and degree apprenticeships in particular, represent a transformational opportunity for public-sector employers. Despite all the challenges facing the implementation of apprenticeships, they provide the opportunity for the worlds of work and learning to align. The apprenticeship levy drives higher education providers to recognise that work-integrated learning and meeting the needs of employers, by working collaboratively with them to design and develop provision that meets their needs, is considered a core business activity for universities.

While the requirement for 2.3% of their staff to be apprentices may be seen as burdensome and unachievable by some public sector employers, along with the needs to spend their levy, it is driving the procurement of very large numbers of apprenticeship opportunities that are of strategic significance to employers, providers and the country.  It also drives employers to realise that learning must be centre stage if they are going to develop the professional workforce they need to enhance productivity and service effectiveness. Similarly, apprenticeship delivery requires that employers take responsibility for supporting learning in the workplace rather than expecting learning only to be the concern of their university partners. For example, in planning for the delivery of the Police Constable degree apprenticeship, many police services have introduced Tutor Constable and Coach roles specifically to support apprentices and other professional learners. This is further hardwired by the required practice of tripartite reviews for all apprenticeships that must include employers, apprentices and providers regularly evaluating the learning progress of individual apprentices towards professional competence.

Middlesex University, along with other modern universities, has a long track record of working with public and commercial sector employers to meet their workforce development needs. For many years, we have established excellent collaborative relationships with employers and professional bodies (particularly in London) to deliver highly trained people to NHS Trusts, schools, local authorities and police services. Similarly, we have worked closely with employers to develop and deliver employer-sponsored, work-integrated and apprenticeship programmes in the construction, management, finance, sales, retail and aviation sectors. Apprenticeships are a way for higher education to contribute to the government’s industrial strategy objectives around boosting productivity and social mobility. Developing degree apprenticeship routes in more professions broadens the range of opportunities available to young people.

For 25 years, Middlesex University has joined forces with professionals and industry leaders to help them explore new work-integrated approaches to improve their skills and knowledge, resulting in transformative personal and organisational benefits. These have included the development of a broad range of higher education qualifications and degrees (with degree apprenticeships among the most recent) that enable individuals to gain professional recognition and enhance their careers. The approach involves recognising the workplace as a valid site for higher-level learning and the source of innovation and enhancement of professional practice. The expertise and long-standing experience demonstrated at Middlesex and the recognised high quality of programmes delivered, has made the university a leader in professional education in the UK and internationally. However, this kind of work-integrated employer sponsored learning has largely been considered niche by the higher education sector until the advent of degree apprenticeships,

Middlesex has recently launched a new B2B sales professional degree apprenticeship with a first cohort of students from Royal Mail and BT. The university was already working closely with Consalia, a private training organisation who specialise in sales and we have worked together to develop a master’s programme in sales leadership. This progressed to looking at how provision could be designed to meet increased interest from employers in apprenticeships in response to the apprenticeship levy. The result was the B2B sales professional degree apprenticeship. Engaging with professional sales was an opportunity to help professionalise a job that might not perhaps have been considered in this way previously and to provide a degree apprenticeship route to this newly professionalised role.

Apprenticeships are also helping to provide additional routes for a wider range of people to access professional careers in the public sector. For example, the introduction of the Nursing Associate apprenticeship has already started to attract people from more diverse backgrounds to the nursing profession. The opportunity to use this route as a stepping stone towards becoming a Registered Nurse will mean that more people from non-professional backgrounds gain professional status than would otherwise have been the case. Similarly, the introduction of the Police Constable degree apprenticeship is being positioned by police services across the country as a key means to make sure that their workforces better reflect the communities served. The social mobility potential of apprenticeships is real (despite some very early negative reports) and I predict that the large numbers of public sector apprentices that will be in place a year from now will provide a rich vein of evidence that degree apprenticeships have a major part in delivering this.