With the apprenticeships title having undergone a government consultation aimed at protecting the brand, David Allison looks at what effect, if any, degree apprenticeships might also have on the brand.

Degree apprenticeships are the latest extension to the range of options open to young people and offer even more strength to the argument that apprenticeships are a genuine alternative to a full time university course.

Degree apprenticeships are different to the existing degree ‘equivalent’ higher apprenticeships as they include a full batchelor’s degree from a university rather than equivalence.

The question is this — are they a genuine step forward, or will they simply add more confusion to the ‘apprenticeship’ brand?

I have to admit to a strong personal bias on this. Although I set my first business up before leaving school, I gave that up to go to university to study engineering.

For too many years apprenticeship providers have adopted an apology approach to selling their products

The course I chose was slightly different. Rather than three terms with long holidays, I completed a ‘thin sandwich’ where I spent six months in university and six months in work each year with Ford Motor Company.

At the end I had real experience, a BEng from Brunel University, and I had been paid very well during the whole process. Ring any bells?

Roll forward a few years, and as managing director of GetMyFirstJob, the more time I spend with schools and youth groups, the more convinced I am that one key to creating more high quality apprentice programmes is ensuring that they attract the best potential talent.

Aligning the ‘apprentice’ brand to existing universities is without doubt one way to do this.

Piggy-backing on the word ‘degree’ is also a potential move in the right direction — it has the potential to add a range of ‘halo’ qualifications to the apprenticeship stable, but it is important that this is communicated in the correct way.

For too many years apprenticeship providers have adopted an apology approach to selling their products. The sell to employers is too often about cheap labour — if you don’t believe me, check out the number of vacancies advertised at minimum wage, or the stats on employer contribution.

On A-level results day, apprenticeships were positioned as the ‘free’ alternative to university. This approach does not build the value in apprenticeships. It undermines it.

We know that companies are prepared to spend many thousands of pounds on recruiting and training individuals — the success of many commercially-funded organisations that operate in this area is evidence enough. So why do we race to the bottom with the £2.73 (updated to £3.30 on October 1) sale and lack of employer contribution?

At the Skills & Employability Summit recently, I was dismayed to see so much of the messaging around degree apprenticeships as being ‘higher education with no fee’. If this is the approach that is adopted, we will have missed yet another opportunity to change the way in which apprenticeships are perceived.

While the fee structure may well be beneficial to students, this is surely not the most significant benefit that young people will derive from the programme.

If it is, there is a bigger problem. Secondly, the education system is already a myriad of badly aligned and competing funding streams from age 16 upwards. This crude message and approach will devalue degree apprenticeships before they have even taken off and provides yet more funding focused ‘competition’ in the educational system of this country.