Executive Director - IT & Telecoms The Open University
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An introduction to higher apprenticeships

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20th Aug 2012
Executive Director - IT & Telecoms The Open University
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Kevin Streater explains the concept of the higher apprenticeship, introduced by the previous government a couple of years ago.
In his recent series on the history of apprenticeships, James Flanagan discussed the development of apprenticeships as a means to develop the skills that industry requires. Modern apprenticeships are successfully operating at scale at levels 2 (intermediate) and 3 (advanced) on the qualifications and curriculum framework (QCF) – equivalent to two-three GCSE’s or A-level’s respectively. 

Why is higher better?

Higher apprenticeships were introduced in 2009 in the Engineering and IT sectors as a way of meeting employers' needs for higher level skills. They are an excellent way of developing and motivating a workforce to maximise efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation.
As with intermediate and advanced level apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships combine a range of on- and off-the-job training and can vary in the length of time they take to complete, depending on business needs with a typical programme lasting between two and four years.
Research conducted for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) in May 2011 identified that 70% of the professional bodies interviewed believed that higher apprenticeships were a great way for professionals in their sector to become fully qualified.
 
"Research conducted for the NAS in May 2011 identified that 70% of the professional bodies interviewed believed that higher apprenticeships were a great way for professionals in their sector to become fully qualified."
In 2010 the Government announced its commitment to growing higher apprenticeships. As a result, there are now nearly twenty to choose from, with additional apprenticeship frameworks being developed in several occupational areas, creating career pathways right through to higher level roles and ongoing opportunities to maximise the benefits of a highly skilled workforce. The sectors where higher apprenticeships have already established significant momentum include IT, engineering, leadership and management, financial services and life sciences – all industries which have a long history of recruiting graduates.
Professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute for IT, the Institution for Engineering and Technology, and the Science Council are looking for competent, highly skilled professionals who can be registered as professional technicians as they are the foundation of today’s advanced industries – and higher apprenticeships offer a new way of obtaining the skills required to achieve this recognition.

Types of higher apprenticeship

What isn't so well understood is that there are two approaches to higher apprenticeships in use in business today. The first is as a 'top-up' for advanced apprentices who want to demonstrate a higher level of competence than their fellow apprentices. Apprentices following this route would usually undertake additional vocational competence qualifications such as a BTEC level 4 diploma alongside a knowledge certificate and work placement activities.
The other approach to using higher apprenticeship frameworks is to use them as an alternative to in-house graduate recruitment programmes. CapGemini run one of the largest schemes in the country in partnership with QA Training and The Open University. CapGemini sponsor recruited students through a vocational Foundation Degree and provide work experience, the opportunity to develop personal, team and social skills and the possibility of an offer of permanent employment at the end of the programme.

Learning in the workplace

When taking on higher apprentices, it is also important to consider the appropriate learning methods used. At intermediate or advanced levels, the knowledge elements of an apprenticeship are often taught as day release or evening study at local further education colleges where high levels of contact time can be provided. For higher apprentices though, who are often working on important projects, taking time away from the business can be a challenge for both the employer and the apprentice. 
 
"For higher apprentices, taking time away from the business can be a challenge for both the employer and the apprentice."
Hence there has been a move towards using supported distance learning to deliver the foundation degree knowledge modules. This entirely complements the work place assessment of the competence certificates and is proving to be very effective for employers. With as little as one hour a day set aside for study, the apprentice can undertake all the requirements of the foundation degree element of their higher apprenticeship.
Higher apprenticeships enables tomorrow's professionals to develop their skills in keeping with the ethos of the modern apprenticeship whilst also gaining a degree and becoming registered specialists with their respective professional bodies.
Kevin Streater, FLPI, FBCS, CITP, MIET is the head of IT industry engagement at The Open University. For more information click here

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