Andy Bailey of Ashridge Executive Education explains the extent to which degree apprenticeships revolutionise leadership learning
Public sector managers have an unprecedented opportunity to take their leadership skills to an advanced level thanks to the launch of degree apprenticeship programmes at Ashridge Executive Education.
The introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017 has led to a shake-up in workplace learning across the board – but it has been a particular game-changer in the public sector.
Masters-level management qualifications, which in times of austerity have been out of the reach of most managers in government or health service roles, can now be funded through the levy and accessed via approved providers such as Ashridge. They provide an exciting opportunity for public sector organisations to raise the standard of management practice, accelerate the development of their people and build the resilience individuals need to work in a challenging environment.
An innovative qualification
Ashridge is leading the way in this revolution in workplace learning with the development of two Degree Apprenticeships, which focus on the skills and behaviours managers need to lead their people successfully through change and ambiguity.
The level 6 Degree Apprenticeship programme is designed to boost the skills and performance of junior and emerging managers, by equipping them with tools and knowledge that will make an immediate difference in the workplace. Delivered across a three-and-a-half-year time frame, it results in the award of a BA in Business and Management from triple-accredited business school Ashridge, as well as Chartered Manager status.
The level 7 Degree Apprenticeship is aimed at fast track, middle and established managers who want to accelerate their progression into strategic leadership roles. It covers a mix of subjects, ranging from strategy and innovation to risk management and digital transformation. The two-year programme also places strong emphasis throughout on personal impact, leadership and the development of collaborative relationships.
Participants will be able to draw on Ashridge’s wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as its solid track record in delivering management education for the public sector. The programme culminates in the award of a Masters in Leadership and Management.
A pragmatic approach
Both programmes combine virtual classes with a series of face-to-face residentials in the beautiful surrounds of the historic Ashridge campus. The approach is highly pragmatic, with an emphasis on delivering learning that centres around real workplace issues.
Each module requires participants to take part in webinars and online discussions and to provide a written assignment. The employer is an important stakeholder in the process, championing participants through their studies and supporting them in applying their new-found knowledge in their roles.
Benefits for the organisation
The grounded in reality approach has measurable benefits for the organisation, aside from its ability to recoup its levy contribution. Individuals draw on live workplace scenarios as part of their studies, helping them develop fresh perspectives on real-time challenges.
“As individuals progress through the programme, they get to know and understand their organisation even more deeply, explains Professor of Leadership Practice Roger Delves. “So, they are not only improving their performance, they are also exploring and examining their own organisation in a way they wouldn’t previously have done.”
The module on self-management, for example, helps participants improve effectiveness by making small but significant shifts in behaviour. “Current participants have been applying the principles of time management to their working practice and have seen immediate improvements not just in their own productivity, but also in levels of engagement because they have had more time to spend with their teams,” says Roger.
Both programmes culminate in a substantial, supervised project, which focuses on an area of organisational challenge chosen in conjunction with the employer. “The organisation ends up with a really solid piece of internal consultancy which will be of enormous value,” says Roger.
Realising employee potential
The Degree Apprenticeship programmes are highly valued by employees for their career-enhancing potential and are also a great tool for organisations who want to retain and motivate their best people.
Academic Director Jane Stevens believes they provide employers with a particularly valuable opportunity to invest in ‘baby boomer’ staff, who thanks to demographic and pension legislation changes, are set to play an important role in the future workforce.
“People in their 40s and 50s are often very high performers but get overlooked when it comes to development because of outdated perceptions about their potential and aspirations,” she says. “Many of these individuals haven’t had the chance to do any training since their early career, so Degree Apprenticeships are a great opportunity to help them rejuvenate their thinking and refresh their skill set.”
Jane, who herself has experience of combining high-level study (an MBA) with a full-on public-sector role (senior clinical leader in the NHS) says participants should expect to find the programmes challenging and will need to find ways of maintaining their work-life-study balance.
“It’s about organisation, discipline and boundaries,” she says. “You have to be very organised about how you use your time but also be firm with your employer – and possibly also your family – about when you are going to be studying, and to protect that time.
“People are telling us, however, that they are finding it very rewarding,” she adds. “They are enjoying the study and in particular the instant application of learning to practice.”
The Degree Apprenticeships are currently offered as open programmes, which allow participants to learn with peers from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines. This brings enormous benefits in terms of networking and the opportunity to generate fresh insights, based on the experience of others.
Ashridge is, however, also open to discussing closed cohorts for organisations with significant numbers of participants or who wish to form a consortium with other public-sector organisations.
Looking further ahead, there are also plans to supplement the levy-funded Degree Apprenticeship programme at level 7 with a premium product which leads to an Ashridge MBA.
“We have been at the forefront of innovation in management education for over 60 years and we are proud to be once more leading the way in this new and exciting field of Degree Apprenticeships,” says Roger Delves.
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