Better by degree

Better by degree

Degree apprenticeships are changing the way businesses view apprentices, as Bryce Wilcock finds out from chatting to Marc McPake of Newcastle College.

Apprenticeships have long been seen by many as a simple way of introducing the next generation of staff into a business. However, apprenticeships, like the business world around us, are changing at a rapid pace.

Whilst apprentices remain a vital way for businesses to recruit the next generation of staff, the introduction of degree apprenticeships are changing the way we go about recruiting and upskilling staff.

Combining a paid job with training towards a qualification is the best way to meet the needs of both employers and employees and businesses are starting to wake up to the idea that this method of learning isn’t just for fresh-faced school leavers.

“People perceive apprentices as 16 year olds who have just left school, but if you look at an apprentice as someone who is learning new skills whilst working at your company, it opens up your mind to a whole new way of looking at apprenticeships,” said Marc McPake, director of business partnerships at Newcastle College.

The ever-growing skills gap and the changing economic landscape mean that now, more than ever before, education providers must remain in constant dialogue with employers to keep ahead of developments and ensure the link between education and industry remains a strong one.

Newcastle College is a perfect example of this in practice. One of the college’s key areas of focus is on its degree apprenticeship programmes and it is working hand-in-hand with industry to ensure organisations are aware of the business and the personal benefits.

However, with recent changes in apprenticeship reforms, such as the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, the college has had to work closer than ever with industry to dispel the myths and misconceptions that still exist around this training route. McPake adds: “Gone are the days when apprenticeships were just suited for young people. Now employers can embed these programmes into their training strategies to not only recruit new members of their team but to also upskill even the most experienced leaders.

“A great example of this is the introduction of our new chartered manager degree apprenticeship, which can be applied to businesses from any sector. This gives people chartered manager status through the Chartered Manager Institute (CMI). When you look at the challenges that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large employers face, they all have challenges at varying different levels.

“For many companies, people in management levels have progressed from the shop floor and that’s fine, they’ve earned that position on merit and competence, but it doesn’t necessarily make them a manager.

image“The need for on the job management training is hugely significant. Whilst you need people with knowledge and experience of a business in management positions, you also need to ensure they’ve been given the correct management and leadership training.

“Our chartered management degree apprenticeship gives them all of that. When businesses begin to think about managers as potential apprentices, it removes the barriers that exist in terms of putting someone through a management apprenticeship.

“People would never usually think of a manager as an apprentice. For us, it’s all about changing the apprenticeship culture and bringing businesses to realise the potential benefits. A lot of businesses can’t see the opportunities directly in front of them, but we want to change that.”

As well as the chartered management degree apprenticeship, the college also has a whole range of topics to study, from leadership and project management all of the way through to industry specific degrees.A great example of this is the work the college has undertaken with Accenture. The leading technology company has invested heavily in their apprenticeship programme over the years, using Newcastle College’s tech industry gold standard higher level apprenticeship to recruit and upskill employees.

However, it’s not just the larger corporates that are benefiting from the programmes, as McPake explains: “Degree apprenticeships are open to anyone. We can build courses for major corporates or we can give companies access to courses which have people from multiple organisations studying in the same classroom.

“We have a fantastic relationship with Accenture. We’ve been doing higher level apprenticeships with them for a number of years now and that’s growing significantly to include degree apprenticeships. They’ve seen the impact it has had on their business and they’re continuing to invest in them on a number of levels. They’re a stand out example of how degree apprenticeships can benefit businesses.

“But, for small businesses in particular, they are extremely beneficial. When you have people studying on degree apprenticeship programmes together, you have a number of very intelligent people in one room who are collaboratively working. Not only are they studying but they’re discussing best practice from their individual sectors, it’s a very rich experience.”

One of the key challenges facing the college however, isn’t persuading small businesses that they too can benefit, but is educating businesses of all sizes about what degree apprenticeships are and how they can benefit.

“I think a lot of businesses think it’s too good to be true and that’s not me trying to exaggerate just how good they are,” McPake says. “Businesses look and think, ‘surely, they can’t do all that?!’

“We’re changing this perception however through constant communication with the businesses we work with and promoting the fact that an apprenticeship is a strategic investment which can be applied at any level.

“As a solutions provider, we work directly with employers to match their strategic objectives with the training they require to meet them, it’s not a one size fits all approach.

“Anyone can be an apprentice – it’s just a matter of finding the right apprenticeship to meet your company’s needs.”


If you’re interested in finding out how degree apprenticeships could benefit your business, contact Newcastle College on 0191 200 4757 or email