OU Chief calls for flexible, ‘tailor-made’ apprenticeships

The vice-chancellor of the Open University (OU) is calling on the government to create ‘modular apprenticeships’ that can be built by employers to match their skills requirement in a drive for flexibility.

OU Chief calls for flexible, ‘tailor-made’, apprenticeships
Today Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor of The Open University (OU), will call for a relaxation of the tight rules governing the way employers spend the apprenticeship levy.In a speech to the Institute of Directors in London, he is expected to say that the future needs of the economy would be best served by a more agile approach that allows employers to buy in learning ‘modules’ that enable them to create apprenticeships tailor-made for their organisation and employees, rather than be tied to rigid centrally agreed standards.

'Modular apprenticeships'

The introduction of ‘modular apprenticeships’, in addition to existing core-subject apprenticeships, would continue to support the UK Government’s objective of developing three million apprenticeships by 2020, but would also offer organisations more options.It would enable the development of bespoke apprenticeships that ensure that employers of all sizes have access to the skills they need and would also allow employers to add new modules throughout training, keeping skills up-to-date and relevant, and allowing apprenticeships to adapt as business needs change.
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Mr Horrocks will say, “This has an obvious attraction – the idea has flexibility at its core. One in five of the undergraduate degrees we award are now ‘Open Degrees’, and it’s worth dwelling on just what a similar model might be able to offer.“Imagine a world where employers could build their own apprenticeship programmes. Imagine the possibilities that would emerge when you could tailor-make a course to suit your staff from a set of Institute for Apprentices-approved modules?”

Businesses desiring greater flexibility

Mr Horrocks’ speech comes as new market research commissioned by The OU reveals that one in three employers would like to see greater flexibility in the content of apprenticeships, which would offer more value and enable them to fill skills shortages specific to their organisation.Mr Horrocks will announce that The OU is willing to develop a specialist offering for degree-level apprenticeships based on its popular ‘Open Degrees’ in which students choose modules from a variety of different courses to build up to a qualification that suits their skills or training requirements. 

Putting employers in control 

This approach, which is supported by a quarter of business leaders, would put employers in control by allowing them to add learning ‘modules’ to ‘core’ apprenticeships, based on existing standards.“Employers could pick modules relevant to the specific occupational knowledge required,” Mr Horrocks will say, “combine these with those connected to the soft skills their organisation lacks, add modules built to understand the skills their employees particularly need and then add any requisite digital skills on top. All of these together could combine to form a personalised apprenticeship – a tailor-made course suiting the specific needs of employers and employees alike.”Business organisations – ranging from the Federation of Small Businesses and British Chambers of Commerce to the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry – are backing the call for flexibility.

The different skills needs of SMEs

In his speech, Mr Horrocks will also highlight that many employers, particularly SMEs, are concerned that apprenticeship standards have been developed with large organisations without consideration of the needs of smaller employers, which often differ greatly.Meanwhile, many large organisations see the system as inflexible and difficult to adapt to their particular requirements, which can vary by sector and between workers. This is particularly true of experienced workers, who have strong occupational knowledge, but need to update or build upon their existing skillset, to include the latest digital skills, for example.  Mr Horrocks will emphasise the importance of ensuring that a more flexible system continues to meet core standards and be properly regulated to ensure quality by the Institute for Apprenticeships.
Two new school categories have been added to our annual Relocate Awards for 2018 – School Providing Outstanding Relocation Support and Inspiring Future Careers – Best Employer & School(s) Initiative but you must be quick! Entries close 31 March 2018
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