Learning, earning and driving economic growth

Software development is one of four GLAs on offer

International experience demonstrates how degree-level apprenticeships can drive economic growth and benefit the Scottish economy. As a result Skills Development Scotland has developed Graduate Level Apprenticeships (GLAs); a new work based learning programme which builds on the success of Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships.

Apprentices are in paid employment while gaining a degree up to Masters level.  They spend about 80% of their working hours with their employer and 20% of their time at university or college. Learning goes straight into practice and day-to-day work counts towards their qualification. For employers, GLAs provide the combination of knowledge, skills and capabilities required by both individuals and industry, and provide a way to up-skill new employees or existing staff.

GLAs are open to Scottish residents over the age of 16 and the admission process is designed to recognise previous qualifications and experience. In 2017 more than 340 apprentices will begin one of four GLAs at eight universities and colleges across Scotland – 30 of these will get the chance to gain a degree in IT from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, while up to 75 will enrol on GLAs in IT and Engineering at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.

Celebrating Scottish Apprenticeship Week

Professor Richard A. Williams OBE, Principal at Heriot-Watt University, on what GLAs offer

Graduate Level Apprenticeships offer an exciting new approach to skills development. Providing individuals with the opportunity to increase their professional skills and enhance their career prospects while earning and studying to degree level, offers a highly efficient and effective way to meet the needs of industry.

At Heriot-Watt University, we have a long heritage of working closely with industry and transferring this knowledge into social and economic impact.  GLAs will give us the opportunity to work with some of Scotland’s leading organisations to combine academic knowledge with skills development in the workplace to the benefit of the Scottish economy.

GLAs are not just about day release from work to come to university, or distance learn-ing in the evenings after work. They are about developing new practices of work-based learning that integrate academic thinking with learning, skills and knowledge that is developed through effective practice in the workplace.

At Heriot-Watt we also connect with global practices throughout our campuses in Asia and the Middle East, providing a broad, international context for Apprentices’ studies. These are interesting concepts that will, over time, enrich and extend our educational models. GLAs also complete the ‘apprenticeship family’ in a way that sets out a clear pathway through vocational and work-based education to the same degree outcome as the conventional route through university.

Apprenticeships in whatever form are attractive as they provide the skills companies need and, for the individual, act as a stepping stone into the labour market. This is particularly key when addressing youth unemployment.

Here in the UK and Scotland, we continue to place great emphasis on the prestige of a university degree. Yet recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that half of all graduates are leaving university to work in a non-graduate position whilst burdened with significant debt. GLAs are opening up another option for professionals to access a high-quality education and develop desirable and relevant skills without pausing their careers.

Increasingly, research shows that work-based learning widens access to higher education, increases adult participation and develops the capabilities and skills sets of organisations and individuals. What GLAs will do is bridge the gap for those students who would not otherwise have considered going to university, whether that is because of financial reasons, their availability to study or a lack of opportunity on leaving school.

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of RGU, on why his university is getting involved

We are in a period of unprecedented change.  Advances in technology and globalisation are rapidly changing business and enterprise, leading to demand for a future workforce that can survive and thrive in this new environment.

Given this evolution of the job market, it is important that learners develop expertise that is adaptable and supports them in sustaining careers in the economies of the future.  With work-based learning the workplace is the classroom – individuals work and learn concurrently and the skills acquired are immediately applied at work.

This also provides a rich environment in which to learn other skills – meta-cognitive skills – that enable us to learn, work with others, make connections, identify opportunities and embrace change.  Work-based learning helps to move away from a reliance on narrow expertise or singular skills towards a wider, adaptive and resilient set of skills. Now the university is continuing to innovate by being at the forefront of the development of GLAs.

The university is not simply delivering a new programme; it is using GLAs to stimulate and provide innovation across teaching and learning generally. Softening the divide between the traditional and work-based learning routes will help young people to move from learning into work with rich and deep skills for employment. Employers have a crucial role – not only in delivering enriched learning, but also in using work-based learning to create a skills pipeline to meet future needs.

Indeed quality technical vocational training is a key driver of economic growth, training workers for technical and skilled jobs in growing fields. With industry and employer support, and capitalising on the opportunities delivered by technological advances, the university can provide new model partnerships between students, teachers and employers, building learning that is aligned to the future needs of the economy.

Our learning and skills system must evolve to keep up with change.  The pace of technological change that we see across the sectors now is probably minor compared with what is to come, and brings with it many opportunities that should be reflected in the education system. It is crucial that the benefits of these new technologies are shared widely and are promoted to enhance the learner experience.

Find out more about Graduate Level Apprenticeships