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How are universities supporting employers to facilitate effective ‘on the job’ learning for apprentices?

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to review a range of mechanisms used by universities to support employers to facilitate effective ‘on the job learning’ for apprentices. It reflects on how these mechanisms can be used to address some of the challenges, reported in the literature that employers face to in supporting apprentices in the workplace. Design/methodology/approach: A short questionnaire administered to colleagues prior to attendance at a workshop, identified a range of activities, at various stages of engagement with employers that were used by universities to facilitate effective workplace learning and also to address some of the challenges faced by employers. These activities were then discussed and explored within the workshop to identify areas of best practice from the HEI sector to promote effective workplace learning. Findings: Engagement with employers needs to occur from the outset of the development of the apprenticeship. Embedding the on the job learning within the design of the academic programme, with explicit links between the theoretical learning (knowledge element of the apprenticeship standard) and practical application of learning (skills and behaviours within the apprenticeship standard). Regular interactions with a range of staff within the employer ensure that there is a clear understanding throughout the apprentice’s journey, of how to promote an effective learning environment for the apprentice within the context of the organisation. The role of the workplace facilitator/mentor key. A range of approaches to providing training and ongoing support for facilitators/mentors was identified. Research limitations/implications: The study was limited to the participants within the workshop at the conference, a self-selecting group from a relatively small number of HE providers. The HEIs represented provided apprenticeships in a range of subject areas, working with both public sector and private sector providers. Further studies are required to encompass a broader range of providers, including drawing on best practice from the FE and independent sector, and applying principles used there in the context of HE. Practical implications: Engagement with employers from an early stage of the development of the apprenticeship is imperative, viewing the apprenticeship holistically, rather than as an academic programme with some work-based activities. Resources need to be devoted to regular and frequent contact with a range of personnel within the employer organisation, so that a partnership approach to supporting learning is developed. Training and ongoing support for work-based mentors/facilitators continues to be a key success factor. This needs to be managed to balance the learning needs of the mentors with the potential impact on workplace productivity. Social implications: The paper identifies a range of approaches that will enhance the effectiveness of learning in the workplace. This will both enhance the apprentice’s learning experience and ensure that higher and degree apprenticeships are developed holistically, meeting the academic requirements of the university and the workplace needs of the employer. This, in turn, will enhance success rates and reduce attrition rates from apprenticeships, which, in turn, may encourage more employers to engage with higher and degree apprenticeships. Originality/value: The paper collates a range of best practice from the sector to promote effective workplace learning.