Degree Apprenticeships: A Guide.

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4 min read
By Hannah Vernon
Media & Communications at Gradcracker

This guide is for school/college students and parents and may also appeal to university students having second thoughts about a full-time degree course.

Degree apprenticeships are becoming increasingly recognised as a favourable destination for school leavers and a hot topic in the world of recruitment. But what actually is a degree apprenticeship, and why are they on the rise?

A degree apprenticeship is a programme that blends academic and workplace learning. It enables people to study a full undergraduate or postgraduate degree at university whilst in employment. The programme can take between 3 and 6 years to complete, with degree apprentices spending 30 hours at work each week, and 20% of their time in off-the-job study or training.

Most UK universities offer degree apprenticeships and are working in partnership with leading companies to create and deliver outstanding degree apprenticeship programmes.

Siemens, Unilever, the BBC, Fujitsu, ScottishPower, Arup and EY are just a few of the companies that advertise degree apprenticeships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) on Gradcracker.

Amey on Degree Apprenticeships

Hear from Steve, Early Careers Recruitment Manager. To watch the full Gradcracker/Amey webinar click here.

Why are companies recruiting degree apprentices?

Most degree apprenticeships are funded by the Apprenticeship Levy. The Levy is paid by employers with a pay bill of over £3million, who pay 0.5% of their total annual pay bill. Employers can use their levy funds to cover tuition costs of degree apprentices. The government also covers the majority of tuition costs for smaller, non-levy-paying employers.

Degree apprenticeships in particular are becoming an increasingly popular way for employers to use their levy funds, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, they enable employers to attract high calibre students who would prefer to earn a degree in a workplace environment, thereby widening their search for new talent beyond the traditional graduate entry route.

One of the benefits of recruiting degree apprentices is that employers can work with universities to shape the programme and tailor it to the needs of the business. Employers are therefore able to address skills shortages within their workforce and add new knowledge and understanding to the business in the form of degree apprentices.

There is also a high retention rate for degree apprentices, partly due to the time it takes to complete the programme. Having had in-depth discussions with employers about their opportunities, we learnt that dropouts were virtually unheard of, and many degree apprentices stay on with the company after completing the programme.

Degree apprenticeships: a favourable pathway for students

One of the key advantages of degree apprenticeships is that the employer covers the university tuition costs. Whilst employed and earning a wage – which is often higher than the minimum wage for apprentices – degree apprentices also gain a full degree without building up any student debt. An advantage for both students and parents!

In addition to the obvious financial benefits, degree apprenticeships are a great opportunity for those who are eager to enter the world of work and would prefer a blend of vocational and academic learning.

In addition to academic ability, candidates must also have the potential to juggle conflicting priorities, manage their time effectively and switch between different modes of learning. While challenging, the programme equips degree apprentices with graduate-level knowledge and skills as well as valuable work experience.

Degree apprentices have a guaranteed job for the duration of the programme, which typically lasts around four years. Once finished, it's very likely they'll have the opportunity to stay on with the company. But equally, if they were to move on after finishing the programme, degree apprentices will enter the graduate job market with several years of experience, a wide-ranging skillset, and a university degree.

Experience a blend of vocational and academic learning.

Life as a degree apprentice

Many students may be daunted by the prospect of starting a new job, potentially in a new location, without the safety of university accommodation or campus life. However, degree apprenticeship programmes are mostly offered by large companies which recruit in cohorts. This creates a degree-apprentice community within the organisation, and many employers offer a variety of social events and support systems to help successful candidates settle in.

It is also typical for the whole degree-apprentice cohort to attend university on the same day/s, making the journey together and going to the same lectures and seminars.

Degree apprenticeships are a commitment of several years, and candidates might be worried about not liking some aspect of the programme or experience. In these rare cases, it is often possible for degree apprentices to change locations, move to a different employer, or even start an entirely new programme. You can find out more about this during the recruitment process. 

Applying to degree apprenticeship opportunities

The recruitment processes for degree apprenticeships are quite thorough – similar to that of a graduate programme – and can involve online tests and assessment centres as well as interviews.

Applicants should use the recruitment process to determine whether the opportunity and employer is right for them. Parents and guardians are often encouraged to be heavily involved in the early stages to offer support and help students make these all-important decisions.

A wide range of leading companies offer degree apprenticeships, and you can find these vacancies on Gradcracker. Happy hunting!

Search STEM degree apprenticeships.

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