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To complement the publication of the annual progress report for Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs), Professor Sally Smith writes about the benefits of GAs for individuals, employers and universities.

Graduate Apprenticeship Annual Report 2022

Talent and skills for the workplace

“Earn while you learn” is the mantra of Graduate Apprenticeships. Getting paid to study for a degree while developing relevant work experience, in alignment with sectors which are often short on talent – what an opportunity!

Students at Edinburgh Napier University at computer screen.It’s an opportunity Edinburgh Napier’s first cohort of Graduate Apprentices first took up in 2017 and graduated from in 2021. Although we see it as a joint endeavour between academic staff, line managers, employers and apprentices themselves, really it’s the apprentices who have had to study for four long years across all three trimesters, in classrooms, labs and their workplaces. We asked our recent graduates was it worth it? The overwhelming response was ‘yes.’

Our recent cohorts of graduating apprentices shared some of the benefits with us: a debt-free Honours degree, for most a permanent job at the end of their apprenticeship, for over 70% a promotion before they even complete their degree. But there are other less tangible things our graduates take out of the experience, whether it’s developing exceptional time management skills to achieve a bit of balance between work and study or finding a sense of professional identity and a feeling belonging to their vocation.

And not all the benefits were for the individual. Apprentices mentioned experiencing a strong camaraderie with their cohorts, leading not just to contacts across their chosen industries, but friendships they believe will last a lifetime.

Of course, the Graduate Apprentices themselves are not the sole beneficiary. Many employers joined Edinburgh Napier’s recent graduation celebrations and told us about the positive differences Graduate Apprenticeships had brought to them and their organisations, big and small. They spoke about apprentices bringing new learning from the university course to their organisations, mentors gaining personal development from the experience of guiding an apprentice and being part of a wider network of mentors and academic staff. They could see for themselves the progression through the degree course, and the direct contributions to their teams of the work-based learning projects.

And that brings us to the third beneficiaries – the universities offering Graduate Apprenticeships. At Edinburgh Napier, we now have more than 400 Graduate Apprentices, offering eight different frameworks, including Cyber Security, Data Science, Architectural Technology and Business Management. The breadth of frameworks on offer mean that many academic staff across the university get real insights into current working practices and amazing ongoing projects. And they bring their experiences of visiting apprentices in their workplaces back into the classroom, to pass on to the next set of on-campus students.

Following on from these successes, we are planning to set up two new Edinburgh Napier frameworks for Graduate Apprenticeships to kick-start their career. One is a specialism of Business Management for the tourism and hospitality sector. This is an industry which is struggling to recruit staff, so having an apprentice committed to work and study for four years will be an attractive proposition – for organisations searching for new talent, and for individuals looking to gain sector skills while working. Another new addition will be an MSc in Cyber Security. Cyber-attacks are a growing threat and Scotland’s future resilience is reliant on these skills to protect valuable online presences and assets.

With so much to gain for so many different people and organisations, Graduate Apprenticeships represent a virtuous cycle. They create an expanding circle, as more employers become familiar with the model and see what they can get out of it. Of course, it is a lot of hard work, especially for the apprentice at the centre of it all. But the results we have seen at Edinburgh Napier over the last few years show that hard work does pay off!