The growth of the degree apprenticeship

The degree apprenticeship is gathering momentum and beginning to reshape the recruitment of today's early talent. Is this the beginning of the end for the graduate?

The degree apprenticeship

Announced in 2015, then Business Secretary Vince Cable suggested that this innovative qualification would create a new and attractive route into work, one that would be ‘just as good’ as university. The degree apprenticeship alongside higher apprenticeships offered by employers are highly sought after, with 27,000 higher and degree apprenticeships starting in 2015/16.

Funding to the tune of £4.5 million has been invested to promote partnerships between universities and large employers.

Funding to the tune of £4.5 million has been invested to promote partnerships between universities and large employers. There are a comprehensive range of degree apprenticeships on offer, including construction site management, child care and digital technology to name a few. This ongoing partnership will support both the private and public sectors, with degree apprenticeships being developed in not only traditional subjects such as engineering, but also in public services and heath care, with the development of policing, nursing and paramedic science degrees.

The benefits of a degree apprenticeship      

This alternative route to gaining a degree is very attractive. It offers school leavers from any background the opportunity to study for a degree without fees and crippling debt. The ability to gain full-time employment and the experience it brings is, as Dyson put it, “about fast tracking your way into a career.” Dyson are one UK employer who currently offer several degree apprenticeships as well as traditional university led qualifications.

If you apply for their finance degree apprenticeship – what does it get you? Over five years you can become a chartered accountant. The advantage? You are younger, have real industry experience and are free from university debt. Your graduate companions may find themselves with university fees to pay, living costs to find and then a job to secure.

Why take the traditional graduate route?

The typical English graduate debt racks up to an average of £44,000. The traditional route is an expensive one. It seems decisions are made based on what career pathway you aspire to. However, if you head to a top Russell Group university, then currently your future prospects and earning potential trumps the degree apprenticeship route. However, these universities are also on board with the degree apprenticeship option, believing that this is a credible route to qualification.

Research from the Sutton Trust suggests, across a lifetime, someone with a higher (level 5) apprenticeship averages earnings of around £1.5m, while someone with a degree from a non-Russell Group University earns just under £1.4m on average (when student debt repayments are considered). With the ongoing development and strengthening of degree apprenticeships, this gap is likely to widen as this qualification and the experience it provides, grows in credibility.

Higher apprenticeship earnings in a lifetime average around £1.5m, while non-Russell Group university earnings average £1.4m (incorporating student debt repayments).

Organisationally, the graduate route is still alive and well. The graduate scheme is embedded within large and small organisations and still offers a means of reaching management positions quicker than those without degrees.

High Fliers Research suggests that the country’s top employers plan to expand their graduate recruitment by a further 7.5% in 2017. However, half of those questioned suggested that graduates who have had no previous work experience are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes.

What does this all mean for employers and early talent?

The degree apprenticeship is encouraging high calibre talent to make savvy choices by thinking about both long and short term prospects. Employers are considering their offer and how to attract the breadth of talent they require for the future. 

From an early talent perspective it all depends on what type of experience the learner is looking for. In the long term, if you attend a non-Russell Group University the financial recompense is currently similar. Yet the short term options are very different. With fee increases and a reduction in grants, the traditional graduate route requires finance or borrowing.

It may be that gaining work experience also hampers prospects. It is becoming more common for graduates to take an internship to build a sound experience following their graduation. However for some, another year unpaid can be a tough start to their career.

In summary, it is a very interesting time for employers and the young people who will become the next apprentices and graduates. It may not be the end of the graduate, but it is certainly the age of the apprentice.