Higher Apprenticeships - a rival to graduate recruitment?

With the Government pumping £25m into the development of a new breed of higher apprenticeships, now is the perfect time for organisations to think how best to use this new staff development option.

By March 2013 around 30 new higher apprenticeships will be available. They cover a wide range of jobs and industry sectors: legal services, HR and project management, public relations, environmental engineering and advanced manufacturing to name but a few. The full list is available here.

At Damar we are already delivering three higher apprenticeships that pre-date this new round of funding (management, accounting and administration) and are part of the team developing the higher apprenticeship in legal services.

In an era of rising costs for university students, higher apprenticeship pathways represent a great value way to attract and retain the best young talent. Full or partial Government funding is available in many cases.

If you are interested in higher apprenticeships in one of the areas that we offer - legal services (paralegal), management, accounting and administration - please call Damar on 0161 480 8171 for an initial chat. If you are interested in another area, the National Apprenticeship Service has plenty of information on its website here.

Our quick guide to help you decide is set out below.

Why should employers think about them?

On completion of a higher apprenticeship your member of staff should be adding significant value to your business, whether this be performing billable work for clients, improving core systems and processes, helping develop new products or contributing to the management of your organisation.

Higher apprenticeship pathways help you attract ambitious, talented young people who have the potential to perform such roles before they go to university or are hired by your competitors. They also offer a cost-effective way to up-skill existing employees who have recently moved into new roles.

As well as the value in terms of improving staff diversity and contributing to your organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, many of the employers that we work with see clear cost benefits when compared with graduate recruitment or lateral hires.

What are higher apprenticeships?

A higher apprenticeship is a blend of a real, paid job, combined with training, assessment and mentoring. It is designed to ensure that the apprentice has all of the technical knowledge he or she requires and, crucially, that he or she is applying this on a consistent basis. It is this blend of training with assessment and real work that makes an apprenticeship very different (and potentially far more attractive) to standalone training.

Specialist providers like Damar Training are on hand to support with designing the programme, recruiting your apprentices and delivering the training and in-work assessments.

Although direct comparisons between vocational and academic pathways can be problematic, most higher apprenticeships are set at roughly undergraduate (first year degree) level.

Who are they for?

As with all apprenticeships, the training and assessment element of a higher apprenticeship corresponds to a particular vocational area and level of responsibility. Although there is flexibility to tailor the training and assessment to match different jobs, the apprentice has to be working at the right level to achieve the qualification.

For most higher apprenticeships quite a high level of technical and/or operational responsibility is required. For example, a higher apprentice in management will need to have full responsibility for staff and some areas of business including some budgetary responsibility. In legal services, the apprentice will usually be in a fee-earning role with responsibility for handling some (but not all) cases from initial instruction through to completion. For apprenticeships with a significant knowledge element such as accounts, prior technical knowledge is essential.

We believe that entrants to higher apprenticeships will fall into three broad categories:

  1. A level leavers. If the apprenticeship requires little prior technical knowledge or management responsibility an A level leaver may be able to start with a higher apprenticeship. Where the apprenticeship requires the higher apprentice to have significant technical knowledge and/or management responsibility though, the “pathway” to a higher apprenticeship will probably begin with a an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship.
  1. Existing members of staff who are progressing into more senior roles will often be able to start at higher apprenticeship level as their employer will be prepared to give them the required level of responsibility.
  2. New members of staff with prior work experience who are taking a step up in terms of responsibility may also benefit from a higher apprenticeship.

GCSE leavers will rarely if ever be able to embark on a higher apprenticeship at age 16 or 17. However, bright, ambitious school leavers will be able to start a higher apprenticeship pathway that begins with an intermediate apprenticeship and allows progression to an advanced and then a higher apprenticeship at age 20 or 21.

How much do they cost?

Full or part funding is generally only available where apprentices have no qualifications higher than A level. Where the higher apprentice is aged over 18 an employer contribution is always required.

The contribution varies but for the higher apprenticeships that Damar delivers employers should expect to budget roughly £100+VAT per month for the duration of the apprenticeship. This is always at least one year and many apprentices will take 18 months to 2 years to complete.

Younger apprentices who start apprenticeships before their 19th birthday are fully funded by the Government.

The main cost for employers is salary. Salaries vary by region and sector but for most of the higher apprenticeship pathways that we have seen, apprentices start on salaries of between £200 and £300 a week.

How do employers generate best value?

  • Set up an apprenticeship programme that complements your graduate recruitment programme.

By recruiting A level leavers aged 18 or even post-GCSEs you can benefit from the free recruitment support provided by providers such as Damar as well as free training for the first year or two of employment. At the end of this period you should find that your apprentice is more experienced and productive than a recent graduate. Although paid competitively, the salary is likely to be lower than a graduate’s too. You will have to contribute to the cost of the higher apprenticeship (because the apprentice will be at least 19 by then) but the investment case is easy to make because the apprentice will have been with you for at least a year.

  • Ensure that existing employees who are progressing internally do higher apprenticeships.

This is about risk management and retention. A team leader or junior manager who is promoted to a more senior role is in a position to damage as well as enhance your business. Ensuring that they are being professionally supported as they make this transition reduces the risk. Also, replacing a member of staff at this level is very costly. An investment of, say, £2,000 over 18 months to 2 years, or even the full commercial cost (if no funding is available) is much less than the cost of change. A similar case can be made for new staff hired into roles for which they have limited prior experience.

Until 31st July 2013, some funding support is available for apprentices of all ages. Thereafter the only support for most apprentices aged 24 and over will be in the form of an “Advanced Learning Loan” (effectively, a student loan). As a result, employers should start considering existing staff immediately.

Next steps

If you are interested in higher apprenticeships in one of the areas that we offer - legal services (paralegal), management, accounting and administration - please call Damar on 0161 480 8171 for an initial chat. If you are interested in another area, the National Apprenticeship Service has plenty of information on its website here.

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