What are Degree Apprenticeships and how they can narrow India’s skills gap?

May 25, 2021 11:30 AM

In a conventional degree apprenticeship program, aspiring students would be mentored by supervisors, get hands-on training at the workplace, and take custom classes, mostly online.

skill coursesEmployers have often complained about the skills gap – an euphemism for the difference between what the employers are looking for in their future employees and what the fresh university graduate has to offer.

By Shantanu Rooj

Degree apprenticeships are an interesting blend – that of a degree programme tailored to a specific role or industry and the structure and framework of on-job training that come with an apprenticeship. In a conventional degree apprenticeship program, aspiring students would be mentored by supervisors, get hands-on training at the workplace, and take custom classes, mostly online. These apprentices have full-time employment status with the organisations where they do their on-job trainings – the cost of the apprenticeship is covered by the employer and the government. Resultantly, students of a degree apprenticeship program graduate with two things in hand – a graduation degree from the university and a multi-year work experience at the workplace – an invaluable concoction that makes him the right fit for a job!

Employers have often complained about the skills gap – an euphemism for the difference between what the employers are looking for in their future employees and what the fresh university graduate has to offer. Degree apprenticeship programs are co-designed by universities with inputs from employers; the students learn the academic papers from the university faculty and are trained on the specific skills by the employers during their apprenticeship journeys. Students also learn several workplace relevant soft skills and develop their own networks while they interact with other colleagues at the workplace. These students, once having completed their courses, are better prepared to handle the uncertainties of business and take shorter time to get productive – evidently, these kids are preferred by employers for their open positions as against complete freshers with no experience.

On the other hand, the rapidly changing world of organisations means that securing and retaining a highly skilled workforce is imperative to our future economic well-being. Degree apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to the employers to create their own workforce without waiting fruitlessly for skilled employees to walk in their doors. These innovative and non-conventional programs are designed to reflect the needs of employers, providing the knowledge and skills they recognise and value and if done right, they could do a lot to close the skills gap.

The solution provided by several governments to close this skills gap is to get the prospective workers the skills training they need – the solution hasn’t worked as a large part of the Govt training programs are conducted in a classroom rather than on the factory shop floor. Degree apprenticeships, combine a full degree tailored specifically to the employer’s need with several years of practical skills gained at the workplace, thereby making these programs highly employable. Government will still have a role to play – to ensure that they subsidise the stipends of the apprentices, certify that the apprentices meet the minimum skill standards, enable universities to align themselves with the apprenticeship movement thereby ensuring employability and create an enabling ecosystem where degree apprenticeships have the same prestige value as that of a conventional college degree.

Several countries have done a commendable job at it – Germany has had a culture of apprenticeship for hundreds of years; UK, which about two decades back had a high degree of pessimism amongst the unemployed, increased their degree apprentices from 75000 in 2003 to about a million now; whereas in Australia, where the programs are generally employer driven, the government partnership works quite well.

Education, Employability and Employment change lives in ways that no subsidy ever can. Degree apprenticeship programs offer a combination of education and skills to the student, create an innovative employer funded financing model, help organisations create their talent pipeline and help universities embed employability for their courses. The corona crisis has dealt a heavy blow to several businesses and it continues to do so; as a result, most businesses are being conservative in their fresh hiring forecasts. Organisations would turn risk-averse and would now be looking for specific traits in their new hires – a shorter runway to productivity, a multi-skilled candidate who can be used in different job-roles and high on soft as well as hard skills. Degree apprenticeships prepare the university students for this uncertain and ever changing world much better than any other course or skilling program can! Time has come for higher education to take a big leap – degree apprenticeships shall pave the way.

(The author is the Founder and CEO of TeamLease Edtech. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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