The Open University in Wales has been delivering the Digital Degree Apprenticeship for a year, offering the Applied Software Engineering pathway across Wales. The apprenticeship is fully funded by The Welsh Government through The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales.
The Applied Software Engineering Degree Apprenticeship is a work-based higher education programme that integrates academic and work-based learning in a way that can be delivered flexibly around the demands of the workplace. Apprentices gain practical experience and theoretical knowledge of designing, building and evaluating software components and systems.
Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager Rhys Daniels joined The OU in Wales in November 2018 and explains how the programme has grown over the last year.
Apprenticeship Week Wales 2020 is the second since Degree Apprenticeships were launched in Wales and I thought now would be a great opportunity to write about our Applied Software Engineering programme and how it’s grown over the last 12 months.
I’ve been involved in work-based learning for 18 years and the introduction of degree apprenticeships in Wales is exciting and well timed, especially with the tech sector booming in the way it is. The OU’s Leading in a Digital Age report highlights the importance of digital skills and the impact they have on productivity and organisational growth. Degree apprenticeships go some way to providing a solution.
When I joined The OU in Wales I was fortunate to work with colleagues with The OU’s Business Development Unit, The OU in Scotland and the School of Computing to quickly learn from their experiences with degree apprenticeships. These had been delivered elsewhere in the UK since 2016. The faculty and other colleagues had a lot of work to do to bring our apprenticeship to market but being able to learn from the experiences of colleagues from elsewhere within The OU was a huge help
Starting to talk to people
The timescale getting our first degree apprentices on board was quite short, and were talking to many employers for the first time. Our first intake of apprentices in February 2019 came from three companies. What was apparent from this early engagement, albeit small, was the need for skills in the sector and the desire from businesses to develop a digital talent pool.
After another Rhys – Rhys Griffiths – was appointed as Business Relationship Manager in January 2019, we started to engage woth employers more strategically. As a pan Wales university, we targeted all regions to make sure we were widening the offer to as many customers as possible. We wanted people to know that the OU is everyone’s local university.
The OU in Wales’ Applied Software Engineering Degree Apprenticeship grew in popularity in a short space of time. Employers and apprentices quickly appreciated the flexible learning, and while there are the same study demands as you would encounter on any degree apprenticeship in any university, study time can fit around commitments in and outside of work. Many organisations underestimate the level of support apprentices receive too. Our practice and academic tutors support them with work-based learning and modules, and they get help to implement their skills into the workplace.
By the October and February intakes in 2019/20, 21 employers had now registered staff onto the degree apprenticeship. This expansion means we’re now delivering in all regions of Wales, supporting apprentices in organisations from the NHS, the civil service, local authorities to a housing association, SMEs and micro businesses. This has given the OU in Wales with opportunities to grow relationships with employers to promote other opportunities and projects, like our virtual internships.
The work required here should not be underestimated, but the potential that comes out of a successful degree apprenticeship is easy to see. The added flexibility of employer support and the balance between on the job study and personal study makes the whole apprenticeship more manageable.
I see this as the beginning of a long academic journey, starting here progressing to a masters degree and who knows where I will stop? All I know now, I have that hunger and desire to learn that I thought I left behind years ago.Carl Jeffreys, Trivallis
As we move towards recruitment for 2020/21, we’re developing to plans to widen participation onto the degree apprenticeship programme, and encouraging employers to create more new job opportunities for new entrants. We’re also laying out plans in line with Welsh Government’s Disability Action Plan so that we can widen participation.
Partnerships working is a high priority for the OU in Wales and we are also exploring relationships with colleges and work-based learning sectors to develop progression pathways and shared delivery of programmes.
It’s an exciting time to be working with the OU in Wales and we’re enjoying growth in part-time students and degree apprentices.
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