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12 February 2021

Why now is the time to build for the future with degree apprenticeships

As National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, it is fitting that the theme for this this year has been “Build the Future”. 

By Dan Lally, head of business engagement and growth at Sheffield Hallam University

A man and woman in hard hats and high-vis vests stand on the balcony of a building

The UK is at a crossroads. With Brexit now complete and with the end of the pandemic in sight, with one in five in the UK receiving the first dose of the vaccine, we have a chance to reforge our identity as we build a new future from the opportunities presented by our exit from the European Union. 

If we are to thrive in this new world, we must focus on addressing the skills gaps that still exist within our economy. 

The Department of Education white paper ‘Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth’ presents a blueprint for how we can change this – and degree apprenticeships have a key role to play within that. 

A key cornerstone of apprenticeship policy, reinstated in the Skills for Jobs white paper, has been that employers should be at the heart of the process of developing apprenticeship standards, to ensure that apprenticeships can work for all employers of all shapes and size. 

At Sheffield Hallam, this has always been at the heart of our approach. 

Our sector-specific employment partnership teams give us an understanding of the needs of individual sectors, helping us develop existing courses as the needs of the industry evolve and develop entirely new areas of provision if needed. 

We led the way with a packaging degree apprenticeship, designed to drive sustainable and carbon-free innovations within the industry and a bespoke railway engineering programme, developed in partnership with Amey Consulting.

Just this week, we are helping to address longstanding skills gaps in construction by welcoming one of the most respected firms in the sector, BAM, onto our already well-established quantity surveying and construction site management programmes with Kier. 

In the health arena, our health science practitioner programme has been developed to meet the changing demands on the NHS and ensure apprentices make an immediate impact. 

Covid-19 has brought sweeping change to the labour market, resulting in many adults needing to re-enter education to gain employment or retrain for a new career. 

The pandemic has only magnified the value of degree apprenticeships as, in the face of complex challenges, apprentices stood up this year to support and lead urgent projects in the NHS, schools and the local community. 

I am immensely proud of the impact our apprentices have made on their workplace, the community and the country.  

Whether it’s the senior leader management apprentice who led the deployment of a three-year IT project for the NHS in Grimsby in just four weeks or facilities management apprentices who helped coordinate the use of university assets for the local community and hospital workers - these examples highlight the value in creating skilled roles in which people can have a significant positive impact on a business and the community. 

For small and medium size firms, apprentices bring bright inquisitive minds and enthusiasm so that they can not only improve themselves but make a real impact. 

Small businesses need our support more than ever which is why I welcome a pledge fur further funding for apprentices for SMEs in the Skills fot Jobs white paper. 

Since 2015, we have welcomed over 1,500 apprentices through our doors and helped over 500 employers invest in their future because we believe they play a vital role in levelling up our region. 

That is why I am proud that Sheffield Hallam has joined leaders from the region’s further and higher education providers, the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the Higher Education Progression Partnership in creating the Regional Post-18 Education Partnership. 

Believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the Partnership will act as a forum for building a post-18 education and skills system in the City Region and will focus on issues such as skills shortages, education progression routes, apprenticeship opportunities, outreach work with hard-to-reach communities and delivering lifelong learning. 

We live in unprecedented times, but if we work together and empower people with the skills and knowledge they need, to help themselves and the economy grow, then that is a future worth building for. 


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