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Helping to get more from senior leader apprenticeships

As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2020, MSc Management Practice Programme Director Dr David Lowe joined a panel of experts from across the north to discuss how businesses can get the most out of senior leader apprenticeships.

The event, which was chaired by joint Managing Director Alex Turner, discussed the barriers senior leaders face in accessing degree level apprenticeships and explored the support available to businesses and individuals to seize the benefits.

The panel, which included perspectives from employers, supporting bodies, and employees who have experienced higher level apprenticeships first-hand, was asked what the challenges were for students looking to take part in a level 7 apprenticeship like the MSc Management Practice programme or the Global MBA.

Challenging time pressures

The overwhelming theme emerging in the discussions was executive time constraint and how senior leaders with already creaking workloads can find the time for additional learning and assessments.

DWF Head of Learning and Development Clare Collins kicked off the discussions with: “When you run apprenticeships at other levels, for those working 9-5 for example, it’s easy to ringfence that 20% learning time in days at home. But senior leaders don’t work 9-5 - one of the main challenges is where does that 20% of time come from and how is that defined?”

The overwhelming view of the panel was that there is no lack of interest from senior leaders in degree level apprenticeships but the key was to find a way to make their 20% off the job learning applicable to their existing roles and to think outside the box when it comes to creating that time.

Kat Taylor, HR Business Partner at International Personal Finance said: “It is tricky at this level to carve out that 20% of time, senior leaders have an important job to do and they still need to do that while studying. A lot of the project work on the MSc Management Practice programme is applicable to work; yes they use the time for study, but that study applies to their work anyway.”

Dr David Lowe added: “When designing the programme we made a deliberate decision to focus assessments on the real life issues our students are facing – it is part of the day job and they’re working on something that they would need to deal with anyway.

“We’re developing the individual but the payback to the organisation and the return on that investment of their time on the programme is by resolving real issues within the business as they go.”

Encouraging participation

As part of the event, the panel went on to discuss how businesses can inspire senior leaders to take on a senior leader apprenticeship.

David said: “The important thing with this approach is not to pressure students to take part, there is a need to strike a balance between encouraging and not pushing too hard.”

DWF’s Clare Collins added: “We didn’t go down the road of saying you personally could do this better or that. Instead we focused on talking to them about how everyone has some scope for improvement and that excellence isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Senior leaders lead busy lives, they often don’t get chance to sit down and think ‘my personal development is important too’.”

“We identified the people we thought would benefit from a senior apprenticeship and approached them. The overwhelming feedback we got was that they had always wanted to do a masters but had been worried about the time and self-funding it. Once we said we would work with them to create 20% off the job time they were excited - it gave them an option.”

The panel agreed that making it clear from the outset the commitment requirements of a senior leader apprenticeship, so that the students are volunteering with their eyes wide open and with full support from the start, is vital in helping to inspire senior leaders to take part.

CMI Relationship Manager Sheena Tosar agreed: “It’s about that individual seeing that it is important for their career. What’s important is that the resources are in place to enable them to put their time aside and support them so that they’re not having to spend time looking for this support and resource when they already have busy jobs.”

Sheena also added that senior apprenticeships must be a two way street: “It’s important that this isn’t a decision that’s made lightly; senior leaders need to really think about if it’s something they are 100% committed to, whether they have the resources available to help them and if their employer is able to support them through the journey. If they are willing and committed and their employer is willing and committed, then they should absolutely go for it.”

Clare Collins added: “It’s about doing it for the right reasons and having a strong objective. The wrong reason is to do it just because you’ve got Apprenticeship Levy money to spend. From a business perspective as well, it should be about using senior apprenticeships to upskill and keep talented individuals within the organisation and because they have an appetite for learning, not just to spend the levy.”

Making a success of senior leader apprenticeships

Panellists at the National Apprenticeship Week event also discussed how businesses and individuals could get the most value out of senior leader apprenticeships.

DWF’s Clare Collins suggested that the benefit to business was instant: “It makes you realise you shouldn’t assume that things just are the way they are. You can use some of this learning straight away to challenge something and make a difference.”

Programme Director Dr David Lowe added: “Assignments on the programme are specific to that individual and their business. They identify solutions to specific problems through their learning and then reflect on how they develop against the standards.”

Finally, when discussing what characteristics individuals need to get the most from a senior leader apprenticeship David said: “Determination is key. It’s not their current or previous academic experience that matters but what they want to achieve. It’s those that see it as an experience and a learning opportunity rather than a ‘what do I need to do to pass this’ transaction who are the ones that get the most from it.

For more information about making use of the Apprenticeship Levy for managers and leaders, please visit our senior leader apprenticeships page.