Northern Lights:So much more to apprenticeships than the stereotypes of the past

When the word ‘apprentice’ is used, many still think of a young male in overalls, learning their craft under the tutelage of a master craftsman, following which they can hope to be taken on within that trade. This creates an image of a route that is solely technical, and only available for prescribed, more traditional, areas of work.

Thursday, 28th February 2019, 9:35 am
Updated Thursday, 28th February 2019, 9:44 am
Harry Agina, Machinist Apprentice, pictured trying out a Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGB), a collaborative Robot. Picture: Marie Caley NSTB-25-10-18-Boeing-2

However, just like workplaces and the economy - apprenticeships are rapidly changing.

Sheffield Hallam University has been delivering courses in conjunction with employers for many years, and since 2015 we have co-developed degree apprenticeship courses. For those of you who are not familiar with a degree apprenticeship: it is a work-based route to a degree qualification whereby the employee (and crucially that is what they are, whether a new member of staff or those upskilling to progress their career) attends university for academic study in short blocks or day release, and then applies their learning within the workplace.

The employer’s apprenticeship levy, or co-funding, covers the course fee, whilst the apprentice receives an ongoing salary and ultimately a degree. Sheffield Hallam University has an explicit mission to be the world’s leading applied university - creating knowledge, innovations and solutions that impact on people’s lives.

Providing degree apprenticeships is a key part of our mission and we have been at the forefront of developing new apprenticeship courses. We are now a national leader in offering apprenticeships at degree level, working with over 270 employers, and this year will welcome our thousandth higher level or degree apprentice.

Last year, we opened our National Centre of Excellence for Degree Apprenticeships. This is a pioneering hub for innovation, design and delivery in degree apprenticeship programmes. The apprenticeship courses available at Sheffield Hallam cover a wide range of sectors, including leadership, facilities management, digital/IT, health and social care, construction, engineering, finance and chartered surveying.

We are currently developing further courses in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, supply chain, architecture and packaging. Crucially, all our degree apprenticeship programmes are developed in consultation with employers. These routes to study benefit the economy and society. Degree apprenticeships provide more routes to success for more people, particularly in regions with traditionally low productivity – including South Yorkshire.

They provide a basis for lifelong learning, and therefore ensure advanced education is more available for more people. Close co-operation between universities and employers develops stronger work-related skills in graduates. Courses are designed to address skills gaps in priority sectors - helping to drive regional and national economic growth. Before Christmas, the education secretary Damian Hinds, described the UK as a nation of ‘technical education snobs’ who consider university the only path to a highly skilled job.

Whilst I have seen this perception in other parts of the UK, our experience at Sheffield Hallam reassuringly evidences that this is not the perception in the city region, and that employers of all sizes recognise the value of degree apprenticeships.

Our programme of work in degree apprenticeships sets out to fill a gap in the UK’s overall education and training provision, developing a high quality route to advanced qualification which combines workplace-based training and university education. Next week is National Apprenticeship Week. We will be welcoming Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis MP, to our National Centre of Excellence where we will be celebrating the impact of apprenticeships on employees, employers and the economy.

You can find out more about degree apprenticeships at Sheffield Hallam via:

Professor Sir Chris Husbands is the Vice Chancellor at Sheffield Hallam University. 


See next week’s Sheffield Telegraph for more on how apprenticeships are becoming a popular alternative to university in our National Apprenticeship Week.