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Lynette Ryals

Cranfield University

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

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Why the apprenticeship levy means more for your seniors than juniors


At first glance, the apprenticeships levy for large employers only looks important for traditional ‘apprentices’ coming into a business and entry-level training.

But the implications are more far-reaching – maybe transformational when it comes to L&D budgets – and have a particular importance for more experienced staff.

The levy means employers are going to need to re-direct L&D cash for all levels into apprenticeships in order to recoup the levy spend – or be in a position to take advantage of the 90% subsidy – and that means re-thinking training at all levels and where ROI can be maximised.

Master skills

The real impact for the UK, and the real chance for companies to generate value from their levy, will come from the opportunity it offers for talent development in the existing workforce.

The ability to provide ‘apprentices’ at Master’s degree level (level 7, at the top of the apprenticeship scale) will enable companies to fill chronic skills gaps in middle and senior management, and in senior technical positions, through both recruitment and upskilling.

Between 2003 and 2013 the proportion of the adult population in the UK with higher level qualifications increased from 26.8% to 37.5%.

In the global rankings compiled by the OECD, this put the UK 11th among nations ranked in 2015. For Britain’s hi-tech industry this isn’t encouraging – particularly in the context of the numbers of science and engineering postgraduates being produced by the education systems like those in China and India.

Driving 4.0

Industries are moving far beyond looking at efficiencies from management methods and digitisation to the kinds of fundamental transformation made possible by autonomous systems and the smart use of sensors, big data and the Internet of Things.

Master’s level apprenticeships are going to be a critical mechanism for the UK to lead the evolution of industry into these kinds of 4.0 models – adaptable, smarter, more networked – and deliver the expertise needed to make it happen.

The nature of the apprenticeship, employer-led but with a backbone of academic rigour and quality assurance from Higher Education, is ideal for moving experienced generalists into specialists addressing specific business challenges.

Reputation challenge

All good in principle. In practice there’s a barrier in terms of language and perceptions around the whole idea of an apprenticeship and who it’s for.

HR needs to think about how best to introduce the higher level apprenticeship offering and how to couch the wording.

Find ways to clearly associate the opportunity with existing senior-level development, and make sure its status is understood organisation-wide. Link the apprenticeship programme to specific and high-profile organisational change initiatives – stressing that anyone involved has a central role in shaping future success.


At Cranfield we’re using the concept of ‘Mastership’ as an alternative branding for positioning the level 7 offering.

We’ve also made a commitment to making the level 7 apprenticeship experience the same as that for any other postgraduate participating in executive-style education, the same admissions process and equivalent requirements in terms of qualifications and/ or experience.

Linking apprenticeships to postgraduate education, though, brings a sudden change in status.

It has the potential to bring the UK more in line with Germany, which has benefited from its greater appreciation of the value of high-level and specialist vocational education.

In Germany, the technical or vocational route is at least as prestigious as the traditional route through university to employment.

The main benefit from the model is the level of employer control, the ability to leverage higher-level study in the specific terms of someone’s actual day job, ensuring learning is applied immediately for maximum impact in the organisation.

Under the first level 7 programme in Systems Engineering, for example, 60% of the time spent by employees is on work-related projects and activity, 40% on the academic content.

The standards provide a framework of core skills, knowledge and behaviours necessary for performing a range of career roles to a high level – and within the context of their organisation. In other words, employers retain control.

Organisations are able to leverage higher-level study in the specific terms of someone’s actual day job or future day job, ensuring learning is applied immediately for maximum impact.

Apprenticeships for engagement

This kind of higher level apprenticeship also signals a strong two-way commitment which will be important in terms of linking L&D with employee engagement.

The employer invests in an employees future, equipping them with necessary skills and knowledge to a very high level.

The employee will, in principle, therefore have a very specific value in terms of what they bring to their role, have important experience from addressing current organisational challenges through project work, and have high potential for progression.

Author Profile Picture
Lynette Ryals

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

Read more from Lynette Ryals

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