Laying the foundations for a successful degree apprenticeship programme

apprenticeship programme, Ashridge Executive Education

Alasdair Poole, Apprenticeships Manager at Ashridge Executive Education details the importance of laying the foundations for a successful degree apprenticeship programme

The arrival of degree apprenticeships has revolutionised learning for public sector leaders – offering access to Masters-level qualifications that have been out of reach for many during times of austerity.

A growing number of organisations in government and across the health sector are now looking at how they can use their Apprenticeship Levy to fund these high-quality management development programmes, which are designed to build the skills and behaviours executives need to lead their people effectively in challenging times.

So, what are the key advantages of going down a degree apprenticeship route – and what do organisations need to do to set their programmes up for success?

A pragmatic approach

Ashridge Executive Education is a key player in the degree apprenticeship market and is leading the way with the development of three, highly pragmatic programmes which aim to raise standards of management practice and equip leaders with the agility and resilience needed to succeed in the new world of work.

The Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship is designed to boost the skills and performance of junior and emerging managers, by providing them with the tools and knowledge to make an immediate difference in the workplace. The three-and-a-half-year programme results in the award of a BA in Business and Management.

There are two Level 7 programmes. The Executive Masters in Leadership and Management is aimed at fast track, middle and established managers who want to stretch themselves using a flexible, self-directed learning approach. The two-year programme covers a range of subjects, from innovation to digital transformation, and places a strong emphasis throughout on personal impact and relational skills.

The more advanced Executive MBA is targeted at experienced managers and functional specialists who want to accelerate their progress into strategic management and leadership roles. This Level 7 qualification is part-funded by the levy, with the employer paying a top-up fee.

The appeal for organisations is the practical, grounded-in-reality approach taken during the programmes. Participants draw on live workplace scenarios as part of their learning, giving them the opportunity to develop fresh perspectives on some of the tough challenges they are facing.

There is also a major, supervised project at the end of programmes, which focuses on an area of organisational challenge, chosen together with the employer. This not only helps individuals deepen their understanding of the organisation they are working for, but also provides the employer with a valuable piece of internal consultancy it can build on.

Making sure the right foundations are in place is, however, fundamental to the success of any degree apprenticeship programme. Ashridge’s experience in working with organisations going through the first tranche of apprenticeship programmes suggests the following issues are key:

Senior level endorsement

The employer is an important stakeholder in the degree apprenticeship process, championing participants through their studies and supporting them in applying their new-found knowledge and skills back in the workplace. This means that securing commitment to the programme at the highest level is critical. HR and L&D professionals will need to convince senior management of the potential for degree apprenticeships to help the organisation get future-fit – developing the skills it will need to thrive in a constantly changing, digitally-driven environment and helping to attract and retain the best talent.

Clear communication

Misconceptions about apprenticeships still abound and organisations may find they have a certain amount of groundwork to do in explaining how they work at a higher level. A planned internal communications campaign can help to generate enthusiasm and address any concerns that may exist among potential participants. Ideas might include briefings for managers, placing articles on internal communication platforms or drawing up a list of FAQs. Ashridge has supported client organisations by running webinars for potential learners, explaining the degree apprenticeship process and giving participants the opportunity to ask questions.

Finding the right participants

It’s important not to assume that degree apprenticeships will work for everyone. For some individuals, an open programme or being part of a customer group of senior executives can be a better solution. A clear ‘recruitment’ process will help to ensure the right people are being directed to the right kind of learning. Some organisations have tackled this by inviting expressions of interest from employees, backed up by a short personal statement about why they feel this particular study route will work for them. Offering one-to-one consultations for learners who are undecided or want more information can also be helpful. Ashridge supports organisations with this process, helping them to sift applications if required and advising on alternative options where appropriate.

Integrating degree apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships work best when they are seen as part of the bigger L&D picture, rather than a stand-alone development intervention. Organisations need to think strategically about what skills they will need in the future and how a higher level apprenticeship can help to build them. They need to consider what kind of leadership roles will emerge in the new world of work and how degree apprenticeships could prepare employees to fill them. Organisations who take this wider, longer-term view are more likely to reap the benefits of the programme and get a return on their investment.

Working in partnership

Finding a provider who fits with the company culture and approach and is willing to develop a close working relationship is critical to the success of a degree apprenticeship programme. A good provider will take a collaborative, consultative approach, working closely with the organisation to design learning that is job specific and immediately transferrable back in the workplace.

On one recent programme, for example, Ashridge actually worked directly with learners to co-create content for a particular module, resulting in a fresh, stimulating learning experience that was directly relevant to the organisation. Finding a provider who is able to be flexible on delivery method is also key, to ensure that managers are able to successfully integrate their studies with demanding day jobs.


Please note: this is a commercial profile

Alasdair Poole

Apprenticeships Manager

Ashridge Executive Education

Tel: +44 (0)1442 841 031


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