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Building skills with the Apprenticeship levy

Birkbeck hosted an event to showcase best practices in delivering apprenticeships, encouraging businesses to enhance the skills of their workforce through learning and development partnerships with universities.

Professor David Latchman speaks at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) People & Skills Network event.
Professor David Latchman speaks at the event.

On Tuesday 17 April 2018, Birkbeck hosted the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) People & Skills Network event to share best practices with employers looking to make full use of the Apprenticeship Levy through partnership with universities and higher education providers.

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced by the UK government in April 2017 to boost productivity by investing in vocational learning and development, putting employers at the centre of this initiative. With many businesses struggling to utilise their Apprenticeship Levy budgets and develop comprehensive learning and development plans for their employees, Birkbeck and CBI were keen to showcase real-world examples of how businesses can turn the challenges posed by the Levy into opportunities for skills and workforce development. The event convened senior HR professionals from firms across London and education providers who are interested in fostering greater academic and business collaboration.

Birkbeck is London’s specialist provider of evening education and has long encouraged a flexible approach to learning, ensuring that students can work while studying to achieve their goals and transform their careers. In October 2017, the College launched three new degree apprenticeships in Chartered Management, Digital and Technology Solutions, and a Foundation degree in Laboratory Science. Since then, Birkbeck has launched an additional MSc Management Practice - this degree aligns to the level 7 Senior Leader apprenticeship standard and gives a work-based approach to career progression for experienced managers and leaders.

Master of Birkbeck Professor David Latchman welcomed guests in an address that emphasised the College’s mandate to provide accessible lifelong learning to people who want to fit study around their work commitments: “The idea of apprenticeships is entirely central to what Birkbeck does because it is about working people gaining skills to further their careers, and working with businesses to make education accessible to all.”

Case studies were presented by senior representatives from Camden London Borough Council, a Birkbeck partner in the apprenticeships programme, fashion retailer River Island, and consultancy firm Consalia. Andy Kemp, Strategic Policy and Projects Manager at Camden Council, highlighted the Council’s approach to developing its employees: “We have a very diverse workforce, and it is important for us to give promising staff the opportunities they need to develop their skills and move up in the organisation. This is how Camden Council retains good quality employees and helps them fulfil their potential.”

Andy is the line manager of Birkbeck apprentice Alice Akushie, who has worked at Camden Council for eight years and is currently a Service Improvement Officer. Alice is studying BBA Chartered Management at Birkbeck, a four-year part-time course that enables students to gain a degree-level qualification and professional recognition to Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship Standard.

Alice provided an overview of her experience studying the Chartered Management course at Birkbeck, noting that it has been an enhancement to the skills she had already acquired in her job: “I have been able to expand my knowledge base and develop my understanding of what it means to be a manager. This course also provides the opportunity to gain Chartered Manager status upon completion, which will strengthen my employability. Since starting the course in October 2017, I have applied for a new position at the company and have successfully received a promotion.

“Studying at Birkbeck has enabled me to widen my professional network and experience university life, seeing as I began working immediately after completing my GCSEs. I can also access my lectures and reading materials remotely through the mobile application, while learning about various aspects of management, such as human resources, finance, and marketing.”

Apprentices at Birkbeck study twice a week and are allocated a personal tutor to support them in their studies. Dr Brian Gannon, visiting research fellow in the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems and Programme Director for the Management apprenticeships programme, is Alice’s personal tutor. He said: “The key for us is to work with businesses – we want to encourage management teams to align their business strategy with learning and development programmes, while tackling the negative perception around the word apprentice.”

Other themes for discussion included the impact of developing the workforce on bottom line performance and bridging the gap between new learners and those who have already studied at higher education level. The speakers expressed their hope for more employers in the UK to embrace progressive learning as a means of retaining talent and tackling the skills shortage in the country.

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