AGR Blog

Employers share best practice in Degree Apprenticeships



This week we launched our latest report, Developing Degree Apprenticeships: the Employer perspective. As we call for employers and universities to share best practice, here we reveal the anecdotes and experiences of those trailblazing the way.

Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England the report revealed that almost half (44%) of employers have accelerated their degree apprenticeship strategy as a result of the Levy.

Given how much financial and time investment goes into the development of a degree apprenticeship, the report showed that employers are naturally concerned about being able to attract the talent they need to their programmes. However, the returns could be bountiful with an expectation that they could help reduce skills gaps and address social mobility challenges.

The evidence points to a number of recommendations we are making to government, employers, providers and policy makers. One of the core outcomes is that we must collaborate, with flexibility on both sides, and share best practice if degree apprenticeships are to prove successful.

In the spirit of sharing best practice, Strathclyde University blogged about their plans for engineering degree apprenticeships and here are some of the experiences and anecdotes from the employer perspective:


Emma Choat, Emerging Talent Development Manager at Acradis

“When I started at Arcadis we needed to
be looking at higher level skills, as that’s where the skills gaps are and with the ageing population we needed to grow skills at a younger age. I knew apprenticeships and in particular the new Degree Apprenticeships would be a great way to do that. A graduate doesn’t always have the employability skills. They might come out with the technical knowledge but they might not have the work skills because they might not have had any work experience, so actually an apprenticeship is a really good way of growing our own. The feedback I get from my line managers is that at the beginning apprentices are more difficult to manage because they have limited skills and knowledge, but by the time they finish their apprenticeship they are so much more valuable than a graduate coming through the door.

 “We’ve got two different pilots with different universities. One is a traditional day release part time university course, which was chosen because of the good working relationship they had with the line manager. The other is a distance learning blended learning degree, where there’s a lot of new learning, webinars, workshops intermittently - we use them predominantly because they’ve got great feedback, they’re very good at employer engagement and we can use them throughout the whole of England because they’re not just based in London. So it’s great for having everybody on the same course regardless of which office they’re in.

“We are doing the evaluation at the end of
the first academic year, and we can evaluate whether day release is better than virtual delivery. We have had some feedback already that some of them doing the blended learning don’t feel they get the university experience – I think they were expecting that as a student they would go to university and I don’t think their experience is quite what they expected. But we’re going to talk to the university to see whether they can have more contact with them and less e-learning. This is all new so it’s all about reflection and trying to work out what’s best because of the logistics as well as having people across the country.”


Charlotte Fisher-Morecroft, Early Professionals Manager and Degree Apprenticeships Scheme Lead at IBM

“IBM UK introduced its first apprenticeships in 2010, so apprentices have been established and successful in our early professionals Foundation organisation for several years. We have further added Degree Apprenticeships because they offer a new channel for bringing vitality into our business. Demand for Degree Apprenticeships, and other early professionals (graduates, interns, apprenticeships), is influenced by our business lines. Following the announcement of the Levy we initiated conversations and informed our different business lines on how they can best take advantage of the Levy.

We work with four different universities
as each offer a different learning model
and therefore different options for the business. The Digital & Technology Solutions degree at Queen Mary University of London is ideal for developing the technical skills we need. Degree apprentices study at the university for two days a week, with some free time on campus where they can use libraries and other facilities; they can get some experience of university life. Glasgow Caledonian University’s one day a week model works well for locally based consulting degree apprentices. In 2016 we partnered with Pearson College to provide an innovative Business Management Degree Apprenticeship with rotation placements at different companies. Finally, our partnership with University of Exeter provides block release
and remote learning, which fits well alongside the busy, real roles our apprentices do.

“Strong relationships with partner universities are vital. It was important to know that our partner universities had sponsorship for Degree Apprenticeships from the top of their organisations. At our very first meeting with one university they had all the right sponsors there; you could see the hierarchy of university personnel who put their head around the door. I think there are two aspects to a successful partnership: one is the universities approach
in developing and delivering the relevant academic content to complement what the apprentices are learning in the workplace; the second is their support in managing logistics and day to day issues.”


Helen Alkin, Head of Future Talent Recruitment at Marks and Spencer

“I had actively engaged with our teams long before the levy was announced around where apprenticeships could add real strategic value to our business, for example in areas where we knew that there was a decline in the number of students coming through taking the subjects at degree level, such as Food Science and Technology – both crucial for us as we pride ourselves on innovation. We also talked about areas where we were competing in a hugely competitive market for talent and were not an obvious destination for graduates, such as Software Engineering or Cyber Security. However, the announcement of the levy made it clear that these programmes alone would never deliver sufficient numbers for us to maximise the cost of the levy.

“Therefore, the levy has acted as a catalyst to review where within our organisation there might be an opportunity to use apprenticeships to strengthen and enhance our existing development programmes and ensure we were maximising our levy as much as possible.”

If you’re already offering degree apprenticeships or just in the early consideration stages, please take your time to read the report as well as data on take-up and challenges there is useful analysis and insight to strategies being deployed.


We are looking for employers and universities to share their experiences of degree apprenticeships please contact if you have:

  • Found innovative solutions to promoting your programme
  • Successful multi-provider partnerships
  • Achieved a shift in internal culture towards the value of degree apprenticeships
  • A trailblazer through to intake success story
  • Any general best practice advice to share

More information on apprenticeships can be found in our knowledge bank and latest apprenticeship survey

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