When we wrote about degree apprenticeships back in August, we made the comment that since the Government had first announced them, take up amongst universities had been distinctly lukewarm (there were then less than 30 institutions offering them, several of which were FE colleges). Three months later, and with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy fast approaching, interest appears to be growing. According to HEFCE, almost seventy bids were submitted for Phase 1 of the Degree Apprenticeships Development Fund (DADF), which provided a total of £4.5 million to support degree apprenticeships.
It was against this backdrop that the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) held its annual conference on 22nd November. Set up in 1999, UVACs mission is to champion higher level vocational learning, which they do by providing an independent voice for their members, including universities, colleges, awarding bodies, and overseas institutions. The event itself was attended by around 150 delegates from a range of institutions and organisations, including universities, colleges, Independent Training Providers, LEPs and professional bodies.
One of the sessions was taken by Emsi’s Business Development Manager for Higher Education, Dr. Jamie Mackay, whose theme was “How data help informs skills demand from employers”. Jamie began by quoting from the criteria set out by the DADF, which stated amongst other things that funding would be based on:
“…activities that better match the supply of provision to employer needs by establishing future skills needs of employers.”
The question that immediately arises from this is how those future skills needs can be established. In his keynote address, Stephen North, Policy Lead for Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, Department for Education, commented that he gets asked this question on a frequent basis. His answer was basically, “You need to be engaging the employers,” which seems obvious, but of course begs another question: “How do we know which employers we should be engaging?”
In his session, Jamie fleshed out an effective approach that universities can take to answer this question. Where an institution might have little or no idea what the future skills needs of employers are, and therefore no methodical way of knowing which ones they should be targeting, granular labour market insight can be used to identify those future skills needs, and therefore enable the institution to take a more strategic approach to employer engagement.
Here are the four basic questions that universities seeking to take a more structured approach to degree apprenticeships should be asking themselves:
- What does our target regional economy (its sectors and occupations) actually look like?
- What role does our institution play in this regional economy (i.e. is it an anchor institution, does it engage with local schools, does it seek to be a leading economic driver in the region)?
- Who are our key stakeholders?
- How are we mapping Higher / Degree Apprenticeships to regional industry?
The first point is key, and links in with the whole question of localism/regionalism that is embedded in the Government’s industrial strategy. Back in September, in his address to the Institute of Directors’ Annual Conference, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark MP, made the point that a successful industrial strategy must be localised, because different regions have very different economic circumstances and therefore require very different solutions:
“It’s obvious that South Kensington here has very different needs from Middlesbrough…Yet for too long, government policy has treated every place as if they were identical…It seems to me that helping Cornwall make the best of its future is as vital to a comprehensive national success as helping Birmingham — but what is needed in each place is different, and our strategy must reflect that.”
Using current and forecast granular insight from three LEP regions — Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley Unlimited, and West of England — Jamie demonstrated just how different specific regions can be in their economic make up. The point of this is firstly to show how data can be used to identify needs at the local and regional level, but also to say that if institutions are to develop a truly methodical approach to degree apprenticeships, granular data is vital as it reveals the specific employer needs of the particular area they serve, which may well be very different than demand in other regions (the data from each of these examples was taken from our LEP Region Reports, which you can access here).
This understanding then feeds into the other three questions. For instance, the university that has identified its regional needs is in a far better place to become a key economic driver in that region. With regard to the third point, understanding which sectors are set to grow over the next few years will undoubtedly shape which employers and organisations the university sees as key stakeholders.
But most crucially, using labour market insight to identify regional needs will help the university understand which degree apprenticeships are likely to be needed over the next few years, and therefore enable them to map their planning to real demand in their region’s economy. For a university looking to bid for DADF Phase 2 funding, where HEFCE will again likely be looking for “…activities that better match the supply of provision to employer needs by establishing future skills needs of employers,” this kind of regional knowledge could prove invaluable.