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Vincent Belliveau

Cornerstone OnDemand

General Manager of EMEA

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Work-based learning schemes: the future of employment


Apprenticeships have traditionally offered a healthy alternative to university, but with the tripling of tuition fees, demand has increased by 32 per cent this year.[1] As a result, a number of organisations including John Lewis have started offering a further option by creating a university within their walls. Over the coming years, more organisations will bring in such schemes, which offer a range of work based qualifications, giving staff the opportunity to gain externally recognised credentials and progress in their career, whilst precisely training people for the job that they are doing.

The fall of university popularity

Universities will always have a part to play in our working lives. The curriculum, how people learn, the assessment and the social experience all play a part in preparing a student for their future. However, the tripling tuition fees have resulted in a decline in university applications in recent years. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), there has been a substantial (13 per cent) reduction in university applicants nationally.

With fewer students and therefore fewer graduates, businesses are having to be more open-minded and versatile in their recruitment process.

The traditional alternative

Over the last twenty years, apprenticeships have increasingly offered an alternative opportunity to school leavers wanting to start their careers. They were traditionally introduced for more ‘hands-on’ jobs such as engineering and carpentry but have evolved to include all types of career from accountancy to teaching.

There are numerous benefits to an apprenticeship scheme: they offer people the opportunity to learn job-specific skills, receive training and obtain experience which will benefit them throughout their careers. Apprenticeships are well regarded – 84% of people believe that employing an apprentice helps to build a talent pipeline and grow an organisation.[2] However, the demand for apprenticeships is much higher than the supply, with 11 applications being made for each placement, making it difficult for people to reap these benefits.[3]

A new, better option?

Apprenticeships are run by colleges who partner with local organisations to offer work experience. However, businesses are now going one step further and introducing their own work placement schemes. John Lewis recently revealed plans to develop its internal vocational qualifications programme through the ‘University of John Lewis’. The scheme offers a range of work based qualifications, giving staff the opportunity to gain externally recognised credentials and progress in their career simultaneously. This is a part of a growing trend, with accountancy firms KPMG and PwC and fast food restaurants KFC and McDonalds offering similar opportunities, transforming how they recruit and develop.

These schemes are beneficial to both the organisation and the candidate. By employing new recruits, businesses do not need to compensate for the bad habits that employees may have picked up at a different organisation or at university, allowing them to shape the candidates they want. By taking the time to introduce a programme that invests in employees futures, companies such as John Lewis will build employee loyalty and by association, productivity in their organisation.

From a candidate’s perspective, joining an organisation straight from school or college can save both time and cut debt, allowing them to start their career earlier and potentially offering an opportunity to progress at a younger age.

How to make your vocational courses work

Starting an employee university scheme is a large leap for any company, so when offering learning through working schemes it is important for an organisation to remember a few steps to ensure best practice and achieve the maximum benefit:

  • Provide a mentor – Buddying young professionals with experienced members of staff can help them in the early part of their careers. Having somebody in the work place who they can turn to for support as well as advice can help a candidate to settle and also provide a sounding board for ideas and problems
  • Create well-rounded employees – Provide employees with the opportunity to try working in different roles and departments so that they can hone their skills and gain a better understanding of how the organisation works. Very few school leavers will be completely certain of their career path, so offering a number of different possibilities will help employers find the best fit. Using the John Lewis example, employees can be given the opportunity to work on the shop floor, in logistics and in the head office, also allowing them to understand much more about the business to benefit them in the long-run
  • Make it social – Ensure schemes allow employees to socialise, countering what they may miss out on by not going to university. This will help to develop employees’ interpersonal skills as well as increasing loyalty

The evolution of recruitment strategies

Degrees still have an important role in the workplace but with increasing fees and the implications it has on education and therefore work-based vocational courses will play a more prominent role. Businesses need to evolve their recruitment strategies to help energise their workforce, shape the candidates they want and to increase productivity.

[1] National Apprenticeship Service survey

[2] CIPD Learning and Talent Development Survey 2013

[3] The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)

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Vincent Belliveau

General Manager of EMEA

Read more from Vincent Belliveau