Students will be offered the chance of work-based apprenticeships from this autumn in a bid to produce employees who combine university-level knowledge with business sense and generic key skills, writes Alan Thomson.
The graduate apprenticeship scheme will be offered nationwide from this September in response to employers' claims that recently graduated employees often lack basic skills in areas like team working, communication and information technology. Employers also say that new graduates can lack awareness of business culture.
Seven pilot projects have been underway since November 1998 and have been evaluated by a team from Nottingham University's Centre for Developing and Evaluating Lifelong Learning.
Team leader Peter Burke is pleased with the results, pointing to benefits for all involved. He said: "The students speak highly of the opportunities they have had to try to relate their academic studies more directly to the world of work.
"Employers see people coming into the workplace with a more realistic understanding of what they can contribute. The other important benefit to employers is that the graduate apprentices gain an understanding of the kind of team working which is important in the work-place."
Graduate apprentices, who do the work placements in their second or final years, accumulate units towards a final National Vocational Qualification that can be at level three or level four graduate equivalent. Graduates with the apprenticeship NVQs could see their employment prospects significantly enhanced.
The apprenticeship pilots have been led by the National Training Organisations in partnership with higher education institutions, employers and the Department for Education and Employment. Pilots were organised by NTOs in sport and recreation, e-business, steel, engineering, management and enterprise, chemical manufacturing and processing, and the rail industry. Derby, Greenwich and Kingston are among the universities involved in the pilots.
Peter Mason, associate head of Kingston University's school of engineering, is impressed. In addition to the clear benefits for participating graduates he said that the links with aircraft engineering firm Britax Rumbold brought other benefits to the university in terms of equipment loans and guest lecturers.
Dr Mason said: "One of the problems is that industry requires new graduate employees to hit the ground running. At present, industry tells us that many graduates are not up to scratch. The apprenticeship initiative is designed to bridge the gap."
In addition to the graduate apprenticeship, the government will fund work-based, part-time, higher education learning for employees of small and medium-sized companies. It has allocated Pounds 5 million over two years from September to support fee remission for employees and the delivery and assessment of courses.