When Vince Cable and John Hayes announced the second list of successful higher apprenticeship bids last week, everyone should have taken note and appreciated the real transformation that is taking place.

It is not simply the growing list of occupations likely to attract the attention of young people and their parents. It is also the new and impressive employers who see higher apprenticeships as right for their business.
When speaking with employers over recent months, it is the expansion of the higher apprenticeship programme that is exciting them the most.

Employers see higher apprenticeships as a route that enables them to recruit and develop people who will have the skills to progress to senior management level. Too often this has been restricted to graduates.

Employers are now establishing two recruitment pathways – one for graduates and one for non-graduates. It’s an approach that is being adopted by some of the most impressive companies in this country.

They say that they want to attract the most talented people – and that this is the best way of doing so. Companies who will only put their names to high quality, now want to put their names to apprenticeships.

In the announcement on higher apprenticeships, ministers confirmed that nine partnerships comprising of employers and training providers will receive a total of £6m.

This will result in the development of more than 4,200 new higher apprenticeships. The funding is part of a £25m fund for higher apprenticeships announced by the government. The first round was announced in December last year.

The expansion of the higher apprenticeship programme is allowing the introduction of apprenticeships into new sectors, including industries where skills shortages are threatening to stop growth.

The first apprentices have started in Life Sciences, for instance. After the rapid expansion of jobs and apprenticeships in the service sector, it is great to see apprenticeships emerging to support the new sciences.

I imagine that if I asked many of you to name the career pathway to becoming a commercial airline pilot, completing an apprenticeship may not be your first answer.

However, it is now possible as City & Guilds was awarded funding to develop a higher apprenticeship pathway for commercial airline pilots. This project will help employers, including Jet2, to address the predicted shortfall in pilots over the next 20 years.

 Companies who will only put their names to high quality, now want to put their names to apprenticeships.”

Just as ground breaking is PwC’s proposal to develop apprenticeships at Level 6 and 7. It will establish a true alternative route to high skills careers in Accounting and Professional Services.

Higher apprenticeships have also been introduced in low carbon engineering, legal services and space engineering.

Higher apprenticeships also present a new challenge to the sector. Enabling employers to expand their apprenticeship offer and set new, higher standards will require a provider network that can work with higher level skills. This will be an opportunity that I am sure the sector will relish.

One of our objectives for some time has been to increase progression. The higher apprenticeship offer sets out clear ladders of progression for candidates. Importantly, this will help attract far more young people with the capability of progressing.

This is an attractive offer for many young people who are now looking at the different career options available to them. Increasingly parents will see that completing an apprenticeship is as attractive an offer as going to university and will suit many people better. It is great to be able to present this choice to young people.

This is a vital part of changing mindsets of more people to put practical learning on a level footing with academic study. We all need to see what a fantastic opportunity
this presents to change the face of  vocational learning.

David Way,
chief executive, NAS