Selling apprenticeships to more experienced workers


This comments by the former head of OFSTED is highly relevent

Read More Peter Copping
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For many businesses the talent gaps are not at entry level; they are in advanced technical or managerial roles

There’s a problem with the apprenticeships brand that HR will need to solve. Apprenticeships are still associated with young people looking at entry level-options – which means a headache for L&D when the levy comes in and everyone starts looking at how to either recoup the spend or take advantage of the subsidised places.

For many businesses the difficult to find talent gaps are not at entry level; they are in advanced technical- or managerial-level roles. But, for an experienced manager, the suggestion they should be signing up to an apprenticeship will inevitably cause consternation. Even recent graduates might think something’s gone wrong in their development plan.

We tend to see our L&D in terms of its impact on our personal or professional status. Personal development is part of the reward system, particularly when it involves prestigious qualifications (such as a MBA) that relate directly to progress into leadership. Apprenticeships, at least for the moment, lack the kind of currency that managers want to get involved with.

It’s a matter of time. And in itself, the introduction and wider take-up of apprenticeships at degree and Master’s degree levels may well turn out to be a critical development in terms of transforming attitudes to vocational education. Alongside their levy payments employers will have to consider higher-level apprenticeships and the opportunities for organisational change, bringing the UK a step closer Germany where the technical or vocational route is at least as prestigious as the traditional route through university to employment.

That doesn’t help with the now. HR needs to get to grips with why higher-level apprenticeships matter and how they can get the necessary engagement from more senior staff. L&D plans need to focus on the future and not just an opportunity to top-up the supply of skills for the day-to-day, because higher-level skills have the potential to transform the whole operation.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has criticised the apprenticeships levy and the resulting boom in the scheme as poor value for money. Its argument is that it would only lead to larger numbers of vocational trainees, trained by providers more interested in the funding than in quality and the outputs.

But the real impact for employers will come from the opportunity it offers for talent development in the existing workforce – the ability to fill chronic skills gaps in middle and senior management, and in senior technical positions, through both recruitment and upskilling.

Between 2003 and 2013 the proportion of the adult population in the UK with higher-level qualifications increased from 26.8% to 37.5%. In the global rankings compiled by the OECD, this put the UK 11th among nations ranked in 2015. Not disastrous, but the figures hardly help the case for the UK as a leader in specialist technologies – particularly not in the context of the numbers and quality of science and engineering postgraduates being produced by education systems across Asia.

Apprenticeships – employer-led but with a backbone of academic rigour and quality assurance – will be ideal for turning experienced generalists into specialists capable of driving the transformation of organisations into 4.0 models.

HR needs to think about how best to introduce the higher-level apprenticeship offering and how to couch the wording. Find ways to clearly associate the opportunity with existing senior-level development, and make sure its status is understood organisation-wide. Link the apprenticeship programme to specific and high-profile organisational change initiatives, stressing that anyone involved has a central role in shaping future success.

At Cranfield we’re using the concept of ‘Mastership’ to brand our level 7 offering. We’ve also made a commitment to making the level 7 apprenticeship experience the same as that for any other postgraduate participating in executive education, the same admissions process and equivalent requirements in terms of qualifications and/or experience. No-one can say a level 7 Mastership is a soft option.

Lynette Ryals is pro-vice chancellor of education at Cranfield University


This comments by the former head of OFSTED is highly relevent

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