Using degree apprenticeships to upskill your employees

7th February 2024
Paige West

As we keep pace with changing trends, technology, and requirements, it has become increasingly difficult in modern businesses to keep employees sufficiently upskilled to excel in their jobs.

A report by Gartner HR Research discovered that 58% of the current workforce will need new skill sets to do their jobs successfully in the future. Many of these new skills required relate to engineering or new technologies, which are increasingly essential across most industries.

However, there does exist a cost-effective way for employers to upskill their staff quickly and efficiently, through the mechanism of a degree apprenticeship programme. In aid of National Apprenticeship Week, we've asked early careers specialists Best Apprenticeships to tell us how employers can take advantage of this relatively new scheme.

What is a degree apprenticeship?

A degree apprenticeship, as the name suggests, is an apprenticeship that is equivalent to a bachelor’s or even master’s degree. They are level six/seven qualifications and typically run for 12-18 months.

Degree apprenticeships usually have few entry requirements (depending on the industry and role), no maximum age, and are tailored to enable staff to learn the required skills and knowledge in a short space of time, in their usual working environment.

The benefits of upskilling existing employees

The benefits to your employees are obvious. They get paid for training that enables them to get better at their jobs and potentially increase their salary.

Employers benefit in numerous ways, including:

  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Higher employee retention
  • Saving recruitment costs
  • Saving energy and eliminating the inconvenience of getting new hires up to speed
  • Attracts new talent and a higher calibre of candidates for other positions
  • Boosting morale throughout the organisation

An apprenticeship programme is a particularly useful tool in upskilling because your employees will learn largely ‘on the job’. You won’t have employees absent for long periods while they study. They can stay in the same roles while shadowing members of staff already skilled in the relevant areas.

Will I have to pay for the apprenticeship programme?

This depends on the size of your company, but almost all businesses will find some value in exploring apprenticeship funding.

Whether or not you will need to pay for apprenticeship programmes depends on your annual pay bill and how much you pay into the ‘apprenticeship levy’.

Only around 2% of employers pay into the apprenticeship levy, but it funded almost half of all apprenticeships last year. Smaller businesses are required to pay just 5% of the cost of apprenticeship training. The rest of the cost is paid by the UK Government.

The Apprenticeship Levy

First introduced in 2017, the apprenticeship levy is a form of UK Government funding designed to enable employers to provide their staff with apprenticeship training opportunities.

Using money from the levy, you can create a degree apprenticeship programme geared towards narrowing your skills gap. UK companies and organisations such as the NHS, the British Armed Forces, Royal Mail, Lloyds Banking Group and Channel 4 are just a few of the thousands of businesses running successful apprenticeship programmes with help from the levy. Additional support is available via the National Apprenticeship Service and the Gov.UK website.

Is a degree apprenticeship a good investment?

In almost all cases, the answer to this question is yes! Taking advantage of the apprenticeship levy means you could upskill your workforce relatively cheaply.

It is usually significantly cheaper to upskill an existing employee than to hire someone new to contribute the skills you need. According to research by ILX Group, upskilling existing employees could save your business up to £36,084 per employee compared to replacing them with new hires. These costs are related to recruitment and a drop in productivity while your new hire settles in, plus an additional salary on the wage bill.

That’s assuming you can find suitable candidates with the skills you are looking for. A study by Monster found that 58% of organisations surveyed struggle to find candidates with the needed skills. Twenty-nine percent of businesses agree that the skills gap has increased since 2021.

Are there any downsides to my employees undertaking degree apprenticeships?

There is always the chance that you facilitate a degree apprenticeship, and then they choose to move on shortly after. However, an unwillingness to invest in your employees may yield the same results.

Employees with tangible proof that the company is preparing for the future and looking to improve, feel more confident in their job security and more motivated to be part of it.

A study by Willis Towers Watson found that in 70% of employees categorised as ‘high-retention-risk’, not seeing clear career progression was a deciding factor.

Another risk comes from availability. Depending on the types of skills you are hoping to acquire for your staff, there may be only limited options for universities that offer these degrees as apprenticeships. However, thankfully the number of universities getting involved in these schemes is increasing every year.

Upskill for the future with degree apprenticeships

Upskilling helps create a happier, more productive workforce, and a degree apprenticeship is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure your staff has the knowledge and skills required to help your business thrive.

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