Apprenticeship Series: Apprenticeships, Degrees & Politics

This is the first instalment to the Apprenticeship Series, which aims to provide updates and insights into changes within the field of apprenticeships.

Over the past few months, I’ve been applying my passion and experience for learning and development into a new area: apprenticeships. 

Whilst many of the standard training principles apply, it's safe to say that apprenticeships are significantly different from a corporate training course, given that they're highly regulated and are held to a high-quality standard by both Ofsted and ESFA. Also striking is the way that apprenticeships fit into the wider economic and social context, part of an ongoing political conversation about closing the widening digital skills gap in the UK. 

Barriers to Apprenticeships

Sadly, apprenticeships have been grabbing negative headlines recently as, after months of speculation, the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, officially confirmed in June that the government's promise of three million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020 isn’t going to happen.

From what I've seen so far, the biggest barriers to apprenticeship uptakes are misinformation and prejudice. We know that many levy-paying employers aren’t using the money that they're contributing. I’ve been working with groups of employers who haven’t quite figured out how to unlock the potential of digital apprenticeships for their organisations, or how to convince key stakeholders that graduates are not the only source of top talent. Our conversations have revolved around the fact they are seeing levy money disappearing each month but they lack guidance on how to turn this into practical early careers or upskilling training which suits their businesses needs. 

To tackle this, Cambridge Spark has created knowledge sharing groups where employers can exchange advice, guidance and experiences on how they're making digital apprenticeships work for them. We’re already seeing HR and L&D professionals returning to their businesses equipped and inspired to launch digital apprenticeship schemes, clearly articulating to the technical and leadership teams the business value they intend to bring. Our employer groups meet in London and Cambridge, quarterly and are backed up with regular email support in between. If you'd like to get involved in our meet ups, click here to join the Meetup group and RSVP to the closest meet up to you today!

Education and Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships also have an image problem amongst school leavers and their parents. I had the opportunity to attend an inspiring event run by Form the Future, a charity doing great work to increase awareness around the benefits of apprenticeships available across Cambridgeshire. Their research shows that many parents would actively discourage their children from doing an apprenticeship rather than the traditional degree.

There are obvious benefits, such as earning instead of accruing debt, gaining work experience from the outset, as well as other more subtle benefits being extensively debated this summer by our newly appointed Prime Minister and school-leavers alike. 

A highlight of my week has been the fact Cambridge Spark has partnered with Anglia Ruskin University to deliver levy-funded digital degree apprenticeships. Degree apprenticeships are becoming increasingly well-known and accepted, both by employers as a recruitment tool and school leavers who want to access a hybrid of academic and vocational skills at a high attainment level. I’m excited to see how our students, starting in September, thrive with such a solid skillset from the outset of their career.

Keep an eye out on the Cambridge Spark Insights page for further additions to the apprenticeships series. 

Written by Jules Wix
Apprenticeship & Talent Manager,
Cambridge Spark

Jules Wix Apprenticeships and Talent Manager Cambridge Spark

Enquire now

Fill out the following form and we’ll contact you within one business day to discuss and answer any questions you have about the programme. We look forward to speaking with you.


Talk to us about our Data & Ai programmes