Last week we launched a new report setting out some of the impacts, challenges and opportunities arising from degree apprenticeships, based on interviews with 25 NCUB member businesses and universities conducted in the months following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy last April.
The Levy was always likely, and in many ways intended, to change employer practices, so we were keen to understand how talent development strategies are evolving and what implications there might be for the availability of placements, internships and other work experience opportunities.
What we heard from employers was that the Levy had presented an opportunity to refresh their early talent strategies, with some beginning to replace some of their graduates with degree apprentices and others converting their graduate schemes into level 7 apprenticeship programmes.
Most of the businesses we interviewed recognised that when it comes to work placements, it needn’t be a case of either or. Internships and placements provide value in their own right, we heard, as a key element of businesses’ talent pipelines and as a way to enhance their brand and reputation within the sector.
These are messages to be communicated widely - a diverse talent strategy can help serve the needs of businesses, universities and students.
Perhaps the businesses we spoke to are atypical, it is conceivable that the financial imperatives of the Levy will dissuade others from continuing to offer placements or internships - certainly there remains concern among universities that they will struggle to maintain or grow the volume of placements they can offer students. So beyond revisiting the Levy rules, as we advocate in the report, how else can we mitigate against the potential loss of valuable work experience?
I’ve written elsewhere on the various benefits of degree apprenticeships, from addressing skills gaps and improving productivity to enhancing diversity and social mobility. But one of the biggest opportunities that degree apprenticeships appear to present is to transform university-business engagement from transactional relationships into strategic partnerships.
One business we spoke to was looking to offer shadowing opportunities for undergraduates on programme alongside their degree apprentices; another was using the new partnerships it had forged through degree apprenticeships to advertise placement opportunities. Universities told us that they were broadening the conversation with employers to promote a range of solutions to meet their talent requirements.
With the Levy prompting fresh thinking from business about talent development, and degree apprenticeships deepening collaboration, there are new student work experience opportunities out there to be created.
If you’re an employer looking to offer work experience, or you already do, find out more and register with Placer placer.co.uk/employers
Ali Orr is a Talent & Employability Consultant at National Centre for Universities and Businesses