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David Way: “Higher apprenticeships offer a real alternative to university”

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To kick off National Apprenticeship Week (11-15 March), we interviewed the chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, David Way, about what we can expect from the initiative.

Apart from growing since its inception, how else has National Apprenticeship Week changed over the last six years?

Every year, we see National Apprenticeship Week gaining more momentum, with a huge range of organisations supporting the week through activities, including employers, apprentices, business support and sector organisations, learning providers, colleges and schools.

As National Apprenticeship Week has become increasingly well known, it is an important opportunity for us to increase apprenticeship awareness, understanding and demand from employers across all sectors as well as from individuals, particularly the 16-18 age group, and key supporters and influencers of young people, including careers advisers, teachers and parents.

This year we are also using the week to highlight the career and progression benefits of apprenticeships and promote support for employers and young people in particular highlighting the Grant for Employers (AGE) and apprenticeship vacancies.

The theme this year is 'apprenticeships deliver'. Does this mean that more organisations are truly seeing the benefits of apprenticeship schemes, rather than just the existence of the schemes themselves?

This year’s theme is designed to showcase the achievements of real apprentices and their employers and use their experiences to positively inform and persuade others to get involved in apprenticeships. There are now over 100,000 employers offering apprenticeships, and over half a million people started an apprenticeship last year.

Apprenticeships help businesses grow their own talent, and nearly every employer that takes on an apprentice (96%) reports benefits to their business. Almost three quarters (72%) of businesses report improved productivity as a result of employing an apprentice. For young people and adult learners apprentices offer an opportunity to earn while they learn in a real job, gaining a real qualification and a real future.

After finishing, the majority of apprentices (85%) will stay in employment, with two thirds (64%) staying with the same employer. A third of all former apprentices had received a promotion (32%) within 12 months of finishing, and of those in work, three quarters reported taking on more responsibility in their job.

Do you think the increasing unattainability of higher education will work in apprenticeships' favour, or do you see apprenticeships being more part of a holistic view of lifelong learning and not in competition with HE?

With new higher, degree-level apprenticeships on offer, young people can do an apprenticeship and work their way up to a degree. Higher apprenticeships offer a real alternative to university, and give individuals a choice in how to pursue their chosen career.

There are successful higher apprenticeships already in place, at levels four and five, equivalent to the first year of a degree course and foundation degree levels respectively. Some of the employers involved include Airbus, Unilever, BT, BAE Systems, and Jaguar Landrover.

From next year, apprenticeships at levels six and seven – bachelors and masters degree level – will be officially recognised for the first time. For example, BPP Law School is in discussion with the sector skills council, Skills for Justice, to develop a new law Apprenticeship and PwC is developing the framework for the industry to offer a three-year masters-level apprenticeship that will lead to a professional qualification in audit, accountancy or tax.

How can you get involved this year even if your business doesn’t currently have an apprenticeship scheme?

As of 4 March there are more than 500 confirmed National Apprenticeship Week events taking place across the country, a new record compared to the same time last year with hundreds more expected. Many events are open to the public and provide an opportunity for employers to find out how apprenticeships can help them grow their own talent. The events calendar can be viewed in the events section of apprenticeships.gov.uk.

David Way is chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service

For free expert advice and support on recruiting apprentices to your business, and to find out more about the AGE 16 to 24 recruitment grant for employers visit apprenticeships.org.uk. Employers who already offer high quality Apprenticeships can enter the National Apprenticeship Awards 2013 by going to apprenticeships.org.uk. (Entries opened on 4 March and close on 26 April)

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Jon Kennard

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