Ruth Helyer

Teesside University head of skills Dr Ruth Helyer

United in developing Tees Valley’s skills

Teesside University is already delivering a wide range of apprenticeships with many more in the pipeline. Head of skills Dr Ruth Helyer explains to Paul Robertson how partnership working is vital to their continued success.

Understanding the needs of employers has been fundamental to the development of apprenticeship programmes at Teesside University.

Strong partnerships with business and other education providers across the Tees Valley has put the university in an excellent position whether it be through existing provision or the relatively new area of Degree and Higher Apprenticeships.

For Head of skills Dr Ruth Helyer preparing students for the workforce is the cornerstone of everything the university does. “Employees need to be resilient and adaptable to thrive in a fast moving, frequently changing, environment,” says Dr Helyer. “These skills are as important as their job specific skills and are embedded in all of Teesside University’s degree programmes.

“We need to continue to work closely with our business partners, be aware of developments within sectors, to respond to and anticipate skills needs, and to increase our opportunities to exchange staff and knowledge in a mutually supportive learning environment, between university and the workplace.

“Teesside University is developing a broad-based portfolio of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in line with our Strategy 2020 and in consultation with employers and Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), to address skills gaps in key sectors, such as digital/ creative, business, health, manufacturing, the process industries and engineering.

“The university is built upon six academic schools where academic experts develop their sector specific theoretical expertise. Many of our lecturers are also workplace practitioners with recent, and often on-going, industry experience.

“We work closely with the Tees Valley Combined Authority and our partner FE colleges within the Tees Valley to ensure a coherent and expedient joint strategy around Higher and Degree Apprenticeships.

“This is vital in order to offer employers and employees both a varied and wide provision, appropriate to their needs, but also a route to educational progression from the entry levels of apprenticeships – potentially right up to level 8 (the equivalent of a doctorate).

“Many of our engineering candidates, for example, undertake higher national qualifications with FE partners before progressing to the university to complete a degree top-up. This presents an ideal pathway for advancing through the stages of an apprenticeship.”

The university’s School of Science and Engineering is currently running several Degree Apprenticeships – chosen to fulfil what industry require. The laboratory scientist degree apprenticeship, including the BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences, has proved extremely popular, and from October 2017 will also be available mapped to several other degree options including chemistry, biomedical science, forensic biology and forensic science.

The school is also offering the embedded electronic systems design and development engineer degree apprenticeship for 2017 enrolment and writing new degrees that will fulfil different apprenticeship standards.

“Some of our most popular Degree Apprenticeship developments are around expertise that crosses many sectors, for example leadership and management or digital skills,” said Dr Helyer.

“Teesside University Business School is leading on the provision of leadership and management skills with its brand new degree – the BA in Management Practice. This degree is truly work-based, with assessments that use the apprentices’ real work practice to bring context to the module topics; it fulfils all the outcomes of the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship and is proving extremely popular with businesses of all shapes, sizes and types – from large corporates to SMEs covering the private, public and third sector. The CMI, a high profile professional membership body, support and promote all aspects of this apprenticeship.

Ruth 02“Similarly, our School of Computing has created a new degree to perfectly complement the skills, knowledges and behaviours required to fulfil the technology solutions professional degree apprenticeship. Once again this opportunity has attracted a wide variety of companies all of whom are keen to have an apprentice who can take their business forward with cutting edge digital skills. This apprenticeship allows for a specialism to be undertaken and from September 2017 we will be offering web engineering which is proving very popular with company partners.

“The Tech Partnership fully endorse and promote this apprenticeship and Teesside staff worked closely with them to ensure the new degree fulfilled the knowledge, skills and behaviours required by the apprenticeship standard and is in-line with what the market demands.”

Dr Helyer says Degree Apprenticeships open up new opportunity not only to those learners who traditionally consider university but also to more mature students looking to upskill.

“Apprenticeships may well attract a different kind of student, who maybe wouldn’t have considered full-time university, so this is a great way to widen access to the many advantages of studying at HE level,” said Dr Helyer. “As well as this, apprentices can be any age, and can even already have an existing qualification at the same, even a higher level - so long as the new study is developing discernibly different knowledge and skills. This provides employers with an unparalleled opportunity to upskill existing staff as well as new ones.

“Apprentices are employed, but they also study and train to become more developed in ways that help them in their job role. They study or train for 20% of their working week and must be employed for at least 30 hours in total.

“One of the great benefits to both apprentices, and sometimes their parents, is that all fees are paid by a combination of government and employer funding, so the apprentice does not need to take on any student loans but instead can earn at HE level while they learn.

“They finish their degree studies, and period as an apprentice, as an employee, not a newly qualified graduate who has to then contend with an increasingly competitive jobs market.

“Apprenticeships utilise work-based learning - they acknowledge that not all knowledge resides in books – but is also emergent and manifesting itself within real life activity, including workplaces, all of the time; individuals learn from undertaking their day-to-day work roles.

“Some educationalists find this a threat to how they may have always considered knowledge to be produced and held (usually within the academy) whilst others embrace the flexibility, relevance, applicability and innovation this view of knowledge and learning processes offers.

“As well as working with business, Teesside University also has acknowledged expertise in work-based learning – still a relatively niche skill in UK HE provision but quite vital to the apprenticeships agenda.

“The University already understands how individuals learn from doing their jobs and can therefore efficiently facilitate them through the articulation of this learning. The modules on Degree Apprenticeships utilise work-based learning methodologies – and indeed without this it would be very difficult to genuinely ‘fit’ an entire degree within the apprenticeship, timeframe and experience.

“In addition to having the apprentice in their workplace for most of the working week, and having a good deal of opportunity to influence that individual’s development and usefulness to the company, employers can also influence the content of real work-based projects and not just hypothetical case studies.

“This gives employers access to the vast knowledge resources of a university and can transform a workplace project into something much more sophisticated and useful, with wider and deeper research perhaps and a formalised report and often a presentation.

“If employees are part of a mixed cohort, that is, with apprentices from different companies, even different sectors, this can lead to exceptional networking opportunities. There are also, however, many logistical benefits to all apprentices being from the same company – as this can make it economically viable for the trainers to travel to them, delivering learning at their workplace.”

Historically much criticism has been aimed at new graduates, with regard to their employability skills by employers, but Dr Helyer says this route to higher-level skills allows the employer to really be in the driving seat and very influential around how their employees behave and perform.

“Teesside University delivers a wide range of apprenticeships, with lots more in development,” she says. “We have been working closely with business partners for many years and to us this is just another way to provide them with the training they need and ask for.

“We are always eager to make new business relationships and this agenda has already presented us with some exciting opportunities to work with companies we had not worked with before.

“We are also keen to explore new territory and have followed this up by becoming members of several key Trailblazer groups. These employer-led groups create new apprenticeship standards that don’t already exist but have a proven demand. Being involved at the early stages of such developments helps us to keep our programmes totally up to date and attuned to what industry really needs.”

One of the big changes to the skills landscape is the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and how it works will determine the shape of workplace training for years to come. Dr Helyer hopes more companies will become involved in creating, top class apprenticeship opportunities.

“Smaller, non-levy paying companies are still able to access generous government funding for apprenticeship training of 90%,” says Dr Helyer. “This offers a good opportunity to up-skill their employees, especially as this is work-based learning and should be built around the apprentice’s job. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has suggested that by 2018 a system will be implemented allowing levy payers to transfer up to 10% of their levy to employers in their supply chain.

“The Government’s new funding rules and new Digital Apprenticeships Service have not been tested out yet, these need to run smoothly and supportively, with good channels of communication.

“Speedy and adequate systems need to be in place to cope with the on-going creation of new apprenticeship standards. The current Trailblazer system should be evaluated to ensure that it is agile and fit for purpose.

“Employers need help in understanding how the new apprenticeship system will work, as well as the policy intent. Particular assistance might be required around the funding system. More promotion of the range of apprenticeships now available would be useful, and re-iteration of some of the new rules – for example allowing apprentices to be any age and existing staff, and allowing those with existing qualifications to study a different subject at the same, even lower level, and still be funded – may well not be widely digested.”

Dr Helyer says Teesside University is well placed to support the changes. “We have a long-established reputation for working successfully with business and we are already well ahead of most other universities. We are very happy to talk to companies and help them in any way we can; this applies to both existing and new relationships. We are particularly interested to hear what apprenticeship standards they would like to see.

“We are an SFA approved and funded ‘Lead Provider’ of degree and higher apprenticeships and are ‘putting our money where our mouth is’ by sponsoring many of our own university staff to undertake apprenticeships. As a levy payer, we have taken the time to understand what this means and are more than happy to share our understanding with business contacts.

“Teesside University has an enviable reputation for its business engagement: we put a strong emphasis on making sure the University’s knowledge and academic excellence contribute to regional and national economic, social, and cultural development. We see Degree Apprenticeships, which are founded on strong university-business relationships, as a vital part of our role in developing the skills and knowledge for economic success.”

Higher and Degree Apprenticeships at Teesside

Currently available

  • Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship
  • Digital and Technology Solutions (Web Engineering) Degree Apprenticeship
  • Embedded Electronic Systems Design Engineer Degree Apprenticeship
  • Health Assistant Practitioner Higher Apprenticeship
  • Laboratory Scientist Degree Apprenticeship

Coming soon

  • Manufacturing Engineer (automotive)
  • Control/Technical Support Engineer (automotive)
  • Electrical/Electronic Support Engineer
  • Nursing Associate

Laboratory Scientist
The Laboratory Scientist Degree Apprenticeship took on its first cohort of students in September 2016, in quick response to the skills demands of two large North East employers, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and Fujifilm Diosynth Technologies.

The programme is based on four strands - Analytical Science, Chemical Science, Research & Development and Life Sciences. The Life Sciences strand was adapted to fit the work-based learning needs of the two companies.

The programme is led by Dr Garry Weeks, Head of Department (Sciences) in the School of Science & Technology at Teesside University.

HealthcareHealth Assistant Practitioner
The Health Assistant Practitioner Higher Apprenticeship has been developed to meet the needs of the health profession. The 150 students currently enrolled on the apprenticeship are employed in both the NHS and the independent sector. They will receive a Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care Practice when they qualify.

The course has been designed for employees who work in healthcare alongside a registered practitioner. Most of the study is work-based, with the equivalent of 20% of the working week dedicated to learning at University.

Linda Nelson, Associate Dean (Enterprise and Business Engagement) in Teesside University’s School of Health & Social Care, said: “Once students have completed the Higher Apprenticeship they can progress on to a pre-registration professional programme and their previous learning is recognised. Examples include Nursing, Radiography and Operating Department Practice.

“The feedback has been extremely positive. The course is really helping them make the link between theory and practice.”

The University has developed a range of programmes combining an honours or foundation degree with workplace experience and skills.

AccountantsChartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship
From May 2017, Teesside University Business School is offering the prestigious Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA), which awards learners the BA (Hons) Management Practice along with membership of the Chartered Management Institute - the highest possible accreditation in the management profession.

Dr Gill Owens, CMDA programme leader, said: ‘A lot of thought went into the design of the CMDA to ensure it suited and matched the needs of the working learner.

“In addition to the core elements of the course, apprentices complete the personal effectiveness module which focuses on the individual impact of the learner on their organisation and co-workers in terms of the learning they take back to the workplace.

“Reciprocal learning is also a very important aspect to the course, as each learner brings very different knowledge and experience which they share with the group.”

Employees from a number of large employers in the North East are among the first cohort starting in May 2017 – including a number of Teesside University staff, funded in part from its apprenticeship levy account.

A second closed cohort will begin in September, tailored specifically to the needs of PD Ports which has enrolled 12 members of staff onto the programme.

For more information contact businessschool@tees.ac.uk or telephone 01642 342312

Digital and Technology Solutions (Web Engineering)
The Digital and Technology Solutions (Web Engineering) Degree Apprenticeship has been developed by Teesside University with significant industry input to address a pressing skills shortage.

The course will develop web engineers who can define, design, build and test high-quality, web-centric software solutions following best practice and industry standards. To ensure the apprenticeship fulfils the web engineering requirements of the computer industry, the University set up a working group to influence the course design.

Siobhan Fenton, Associate Dean (Enterprise and Business Engagement) in the School of Computing said: “In order to design the most industry-relevant degree programme possible, it is vital that we take into account the requirements of potential employers.

“In this manner we can tailor the delivery of the academic programme to meet the specific needs of employers.

“We want companies to influence the experience their apprentices have on the course, and help create the curriculum.”

The apprenticeship is led by Barry Hebbron, who is just one of the University’s academics with many years of invaluable experience working with businesses, developing a firm understanding of the skills businesses require to move forward and grow.

The first cohort of the Digital and Technology Solutions (Web Engineering) Degree Apprenticeship will start in September 2017.