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Practitioner's viewpoint

22 August 2019

Modern apprenticeships such as the degree level apprentice qualification at Middlesex University, are beneficial for individuals and employers, says Louise Ward.

TODAY HAS been slightly out of the ordinary for me. I’ve spent the day supporting our recruitment team, and our partners from Middlesex University, at a selection centre for degree level apprentices. This new qualification is a brilliant way to learn a practical subject, balancing academic learning with practical skills development and real-life experience in the workplace. This allows learners to develop all round competence in an integrated programme rather than gaining a theory-based qualification and then having to find a supervised training position to build their practical skills. Even better, they can earn while they learn, helping to manage out the crippling debts than can be associated with the traditional approach to degree level learning.

I’m really excited that this new learning pathway is now available to those looking to study health and safety. For many years people gaining theoretical qualifications in this subject have reported significant difficulty in securing their first position, as employers are typically seeking someone who is both qualified and experienced. I very much hope that the degree apprenticeship programmes will help to address this problem. There are benefits for employers too, as the cost of the programme can be offset against the apprenticeship levy.

When I entered the profession, more than 20 years ago now, it was unusual to find others who had chosen health and safety as a first career. The majority of practitioners back then had transitioned into the sector from other roles and professions. So, I was quite surprised at the positive response our degree apprenticeship advertisement drew from young people who are looking to enter full time employment for the first time. Talking to them during the selection day it was great to see that we are succeeding in changing the traditional perceptions of the profession, and that there is an increasing recognition of the diversity of opportunity associated with career in health and safety.

Of course, modern apprenticeships are not just for young people, and some of our applicants already have degree level qualifications and employment experience in other fields. The programme offers some flexibility for these candidates, allowing relevant prior knowledge and experience to be verified and accredited against the learning outcomes, which reduces duplication and ensures that the learning pathway is relevant for every learner.

We had a good day with our applicants, and have selected some great candidates to join our inaugural health and safety apprenticeship programme in the autumn.

Now the hard work begins, as we start to build the frameworks which will support rounded learning for our apprenticeships. We are determined to ensure that we help them build the non-technical skills which are so essential in modern health and safety practice, alongside their academic learning and develop a structured schedule for workplace experience that compliments their study. This is a big ask for the business, and will require significant commitment from line managers and mentors, but we are committed to developing a programme that will deliver rounded health and safety professionals ready for deployment into positions across our business. 

It can be a real challenge to recruit high quality, experienced and competent health and safety professionals, so I’m really looking forward to investing in ‘growing our own’ to support growth and succession planning in our business.

I believe that the degree level apprenticeship qualification is a huge step forward for our profession, and I very much hope that it will quickly become established. However, to make this happen we need to generate interest from both employers and universities so that programmes can be offered in a variety of sectors and at locations right across the UK. So if you’re interested please reach out to your learning development teams and local universities. There is an apprenticeship framework published approved and available, so why not consider adopting this in your business?

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens. For more information visit, www.siemens.com/mobility