Sheffield Hallam University, defending apprenticeships which work for everyone

Dan Lally, Group Director of Business, Enterprise, Skills and Employability at Sheffield Hallam University discusses the need for diversity in apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have rarely been more newsworthy. Faced with consistent reports that the Treasury is considering reform, there seems little doubt that they will be a political football in the run up to the next General Election.  This is despite the fact there is a rare consensus across politics – including consistent and vocal support from the Department for Education – that they are a force for good. 

That is because many people still view them as exclusively for school-leavers in select industries – both in Whitehall and beyond.  This view is outdated – degree-level apprenticeships work best when they are available across different disciplines, based on employer-need and available to people at all ages.

We need to defend this principle, and it is incumbent on us to set out the benefits that apprenticeships bring to the economy and vital public services like the NHS and local government. 

Sheffield Hallam is home to the National Centre of Excellence for Degree Apprenticeships, and we currently support close to 3,000 degree apprentices.  Importantly, 45% are from communities where participation in higher education is amongst the lowest, and more than half are aged 25 or over.  We know as well as anyone how degree apprenticeships provide opportunities to people who otherwise would not have had them, at all stages of life.

All ages, all stages

When most people think of apprentices, they think of young people.  But mature learners are a major strength of the system too, and this diversity has to be defended.  

The nationally popular Senior Leader Apprenticeship is a prime example. It has come in for some criticism, including from the political sphere, because it isn’t what people immediately think of when they hear the word ‘apprenticeship’.  But this betrays a serious misunderstanding of the skills environment. 

In fact, programmes like this – and the Charted Manager Degree Apprenticeship – directly reflect the training and skills which are needed in multiple key industries, including health, social work, and education, and have a valuable part to play in the country’s economic future – training leaders now and for the future.

What’s more, they support employers to recruit a more inclusive workforce.  At Sheffield Hallam, for example, leadership and management apprenticeships attract over 50% female students, as well as a high proportion of students with a disability (20%).  In addition, over 30% do not have an existing degree, reflecting how these courses offer reskilling and career advancement opportunities to those who missed out on opportunities earlier in life.

Standing firm

Policies which seek to restrict access to programmes for older learners therefore disproportionately impact underrepresented groups, curtail growth, and put pressure on vital public services, as well as the charity sector. 

We need to overturn the accepted wisdom that apprenticeships are only beneficial select groups of people, in a narrow set of industries, and hammer home what is best for the UK. That is an employer-led apprenticeship system which offers high-level training to people at all ages, and at all stages of life.

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