Tag Archives: talent

Degree Apprenticeships at the University of Exeter

Lucy & Quinten Digital Degree Apprentices 2017
Software Degree Apprentices (L) Lucy Spiteri-Beale (Renishaw PLC) & (R) Quinten John (Beran Instruments)

Korneel Verhaeghe – Partnership Development Officer from the University of Exeter writes:

This April marked the start of the new apprenticeship levy. Charged at 0.5% of payroll costs for UK employers with a wage bill of over £3 million, the Levy is part of the government’s commitment to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. This creates new and interesting opportunities for organisations both large and small to recoup their costs or take advantage of government funding by hiring apprentices.

The University of Exeter has responded to this new opportunity with its pioneering BSc Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship launched in 2016, and more programmes on the horizon for 2017 and 2018.

A 2016 report showed the average UK student finishes their degree with £44,000 of debt, making degree apprenticeships a welcome opportunity for many talented and enterprising students looking to gain a degree  without the burden of tuition fees. Through programmes of 4-5 years in duration, apprentices will gain a wealth of professional experience, earn a salary and enhance their lifelong career prospects. For employers, this offers new opportunities to attract high-calibre students while embedding them in the culture of your business, building loyalty and supporting growth.

BSc Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship

This trailblazing programme at the University is benefitting from a mix of students and companies, ranging from IBM, Renishaw and the Met Office to smaller businesses such as Beran Instruments and Aspidistra Software.

“The combination of residential and remote learning, allows our degree apprentices to combine university studies with a real role at IBM. We’re confident they are learning valuable digital skills and look forward to seeing how much they will achieve.”

Charlotte Fisher Morecroft; IBM

The programme is delivered through a unique model of residentials and online study, created in such a way as to minimise the impact on apprentices’ roles in the workplace. Students travel from across the country to the Exeter campus twice a year for several days to kick-start new modules, while the rest of the year is taught through online learning and lectures. Recognising the value of the extensive real-wold experience gained by apprentices, approximately one third of credit towards the degree apprenticeship is assessed through work-based learning.

“As a business we really value the blended learning element of the course which allows our apprentices to take full advantage of the earn as you learn element of an apprenticeship.”

Emma Portman; Renishaw PLC

Students on the Digital and Technology Solutions programme go through 2 years of core teaching, before taking modules relating to the specialist role-related pathway they are appointed to. They graduate as either a Software Engineer, IT consultant, Business Analyst, Cyber Security Analyst, Data Analyst or Network Engineer.

Throughout their course apprentices are assigned a mentor in the organisation and an academic mentor from the University, allowing for close monitoring of their progress, academic and pastoral needs.

“We have found the Apprenticeship Programme to be very well structured, with ample support and information being provided at all stages, resulting in an enhanced learning experience, and enabling us to transfer and implement larger corporate ‘best practice’ within our smaller SME environment.

Our learners have clearly benefited from the excellent working relationships formed with a variety of professional and experienced people, both in terms of other students on the course and lecturers.”

Peter Morrish; Beran Instruments

Large and Small Companies

Companies with a wage bill over £3 million a year pay 0.5% of this (with a £15,000 exemption) into an online account on a monthly basis. They can choose to benefit from this levy by hiring apprentices, in which case the accumulated money will go towards the tuition fees.

Emma Portman, Test and Training Manager at Renishaw, has enjoyed working with the University in recent years:

“Starting an apprenticeship scheme can be a long, complicated process and even though Renishaw has a well-established degree-level software apprenticeship scheme it was with some trepidation that we embarked on our new supplier relationship with the University of Exeter. However, from the very beginning they were engaged, focused and enthusiastic. Our support team ensured that we had all of the information we needed quickly and our first cohort of apprentices joined the Digital and Technology Solutions degree successfully in September 2016.” 

Companies not paying the levy can also benefit from this new system, as they will only pay 10% of the tuition fees, while the Government covers the remaining 90%. This provides smaller companies with a great and affordable way to grow their workforce, whether in number or in skill. Based on the BSc Degree Apprenticeship’s tuition fees of £27,000 over 4 years; this means small companies only pay £2,700 (10%); or £675 per year; to hire a new apprentice or to develop an already existing employee.

Beran Instruments, based in North Devon, currently has 1 student on the programme and has decided to hire another apprentice for the September 2017 intake. The company website boasts of their past success in hiring apprentices, some of which have now proceeded to managerial positions.

Peter Morrish, who joined the company in 1990 as an apprentice and is now a key member of the senior management team, cherishes the benefits of the degree apprenticeship on both the company and the student level:

“The Company has enjoyed various benefits from being involved with Exeter University’s Apprenticeship Programme, not least of which has been the significant level of development for the trainees as they have been able to apply theoretical learning to practical work applications from Day 1. The Company also benefits from improved access to a local high quality training provider, resulting in much greater communication and collaboration between the two organisations. The industry-focused modules relate closely to key business requirements.”


The current students on the programme are very positive about the degree apprenticeship and see clear benefits to taking this route of vocational education:



“Being able to learn on the job while also learning at uni is great. As the course has progressed I’ve found that the knowledge is beginning to overlap and is reinforcing my learning on both sides. I’ve also learnt a lot about time management – you have to make sure you keep on top of everything, which at times can be challenging, like with any degree.”

Lucy Spiteri-Beale; Software Degree Apprentice – Renishaw PLC




The result of the degree apprenticeship programme is an experienced graduate, with a skillset moulded specifically to the needs of your business, which has shown to lead to increased loyalty to the company.

Quinten John joined Beran Instruments as an apprentice in 2011 and is currently on the IT degree apprenticeship at the University of Exeter. He explains how the programme is benefiting both him and the company:


“The flexible programme allows you to attend to work duties whilst learning in parallel, and enables you to specialise and develop particular skills to meet your own individual career aspirations and also the ongoing needs of the business.”
Quinten John; Software Degree Apprentice – Beran Instruments

If you would like to explore how a degree apprenticeship can benefit your organisation, please get in touch with Partnership Development Officer Korneel Verhaeghe (01392 72 62 25 or k.verhaeghe@exeter.ac.uk), who will gladly provide you with information and answer any questions.

“The only thing worse than training your employees and losing them, is not training your employees and keeping them.”

Zig Ziglar


New ‘Carousel’ Digital Marketing apprenticeship scheme with top Devon employers

Gemma - PR
Gemma – Carousel Apprentice with Cosmic, The Deer Park Hotel & River Cottage


Vicky Moss- Crump from Cosmic writes:-

Cosmic are advocates when it comes to apprenticeships. We took on our very first apprentice, Ben, in 1998 and he is still a valued member of the team. Since that time, apprenticeships have changed and Cosmic have evolved their offering to suit the needs of those looking for this type of work. In 2013, Cosmic secured funding to run their very own digital apprenticeship programme, which saw us employ six young people and gave us the opportunity to provide them with a wealth of digital knowledge. The apprenticeship enabled these young people to work on a variety of areas within our business. This includes website design and development, technical support, digital marketing and training; as well as the opportunity to gain placements with a number of our partners, including Mole Valley Farmers, Yarlington Housing and Eloquent Technologies.

Since then, we have been working with the Exeter and Heart of Devon Employment and Skills Board to look at different ways in which we can offer apprenticeships. We are all aware that there is currently a skills shortage within the digital sector. Many organisations recognise the need for digital within their businesses, but do not have the expertise to support these roles or do not need these roles on a full-time basis. With this in mind, Cosmic have designed an apprenticeship model which allows other organisations to benefit from Cosmic’s digital skills and offers a more flexible approach. We have called it the ‘Carousel Apprenticeship’.

In 2016, Cosmic held talks with several members of the Exeter and Heart of Devon Employment and Skills Board around this approach and it was agreed to move forwards with two other employers: The Deer Park Hotel and River Cottage.

So how does it work? Cosmic have employed a digital marketing apprentice; Gemma Spencer, who began the new programme in February 2017. Gemma attends college for 1 day a week and works at Cosmic for 1 day a week. During that time, she focusses on learning a range of digital marketing skills. She then works 1 day at the Deer Park Hotel and 2 days at River Cottage, allowing her to apply her learning to different organisations. The businesses benefit from a skilled digital apprentice and Gemma benefits from a wide range of learning through a number of organisations.

Already, Gemma is embracing the new way of working and has grasped the opportunity with both hands. She says, “I am looking forward to this new type of apprenticeship. Being able to work with different companies such as Cosmic, The Deer Park and River Cottage is a fantastic opportunity, giving me the chance to build strong relationships and gain as much experience as possible. One of the things I am looking forward to the most is being able to experience different working platforms, and interacting with so many different people. This will teach me to keep an open mind and have multiple perspectives for each company and their brand. Every day in the week will be something new with different surroundings and I’m more than excited for the opportunity”.

Joint CEO Julie Hawker said, “Cosmic has for many years made a major commitment to its own apprenticeship programme, and has offered new opportunities and employment to local young people. This new initiative to share our passion and commitment, as well as employment of apprentices with other local employers, is a fantastic development and one which we look forward to replicating many times in the years ahead.”

Managing Director of the Deer Park, Mark Godfrey advised “Deer Park are committed to the apprenticeship scheme and are proud of what we have achieved with our partners; River Cottage, Bicton College and Exeter College. We have had 6 apprentices working with us in the last 4 years and it’s great to see them all develop and move up the employment ladder with good qualifications.

We have been lucky enough to have apprentices from Bicton in our garden department growing produce for our River Cottage apprentices to cook for our 2 Rosette restaurant served by our Front of House apprentice from Exeter College. Now that’s a great example of plot to plate and growing your own!

And now working with Cosmic and River Cottage we have the great opportunity to have a Digital Marketing Apprentice working with us one day a week under a newly developed Carousel scheme, a fantastic opportunity for Gemma….”

All partners are delighted to be running this new programme and cannot wait to report on the programme at the end of 18th month scheme. Cosmic is extremely proud of the apprenticeships they have offered over the last 19 years. They will continue to look for new innovative ways in which to reduce the skills gap and enable other organisations to embrace technology through apprenticeships.

Full STEAMM Ahead

Grand Challenges - University of Exeter - June 2016
Grand Challenges – Tackling 21st Century Interdisciplinary Dilemmas Together at the University of Exeter – June 2016

Recently we have been discussing the complex and volatile world in which we live and work, and the increasing need for more interdisciplinary teams.

Locally, Innovation Exeter is focused on cultivating a City-region which is a world-leader in environmental data analytics.  This is an interdisciplinary area and results will be achieved by exploiting the presence of the Met Office, the University of Exeter, the Science Park, the Maths School and other critical assets. STEM∗ STEMM° STEAMM℘ are top topics. Naomi Climer, the president of the Institute of Engineers, values the mix of creative and technical skills in individuals. However, the skills and personal qualities which underpin and enable interdisciplinary working in these highly technical areas are vital across all sectors and at all levels. If we are to tackle the productivity challenge and be more fulfilled individuals we need to unleash confidence, communicate effectively, collaborate meaningfully and re-discover curiosity.

Our meeting of Employers, Training Providers, Facilitators and Funders on Friday 25 November explored the theme Full STEAMM Ahead! Interdisciplinary STEAMM teams with strong collaborative abilities are the way ahead. We enjoyed presentations from and discussions with:

Kerry Burnham Exeter Maths School Creative and interdisciplinary project work with the University, Exeter College and employers – the benefits of being stuck!
Louise Cole & Kevin Feaviour Imagine If – Assets for Success Soft skills in schools, colleges, universities communities and the modern workplace


Rosie Bates Education Business Partnership STEAMM & the EBP – STEM Ambassadors, Big Bang etc


Anka Djordjevic Grand Challenges – University of Exeter Grand Challenges interdisciplinary enquiry –led learning with leading academics and external specialists


Jo McCreedie Careers & Employability – University of Exeter Internships & employability experiences

(Presentation to be added when technical glitches solved!)

Our main discussion points identified our need to:

  • Transcend silo mentality and cross boundaries
  • Ensure students experience breadth and develop interdisciplinary skills as study subject areas become more specific
  • Think beyond the immediate demand for STEM and not to fixate on ‘the now’
  • Focus on ‘Character, values and virtues’

We will need an interdisciplinary, creative, collaborative, innovative group to make this happen.

This was an interesting and informative start to what should be a Grand Challenge for Exeter and beyond.

Thanks to the Met Office who generously hosted this meeting.

∗STEM – Science Technology Engineering Maths
° STEMM – Science Technology Engineering Maths Medicine
℘ STEAMM – Science Technology Engineering Arts Maths Medicine

REEP Reaps Rewards

Amy receives her certificate from Exeter City Council Chief Executive
Amy is congratulated by Karime Hassan CE Exeter City Council at St Loye’s Exeter

Further good news! Just three weeks after completing the ten day intensive REEP programme three young people have already started work and continue to be touch with their volunteer mentors. Charlie, 22, from Cowick was the first to be offered an opportunity to work for an IT company in Pynes Hill. Jemima, 19, from Exeter, is now very happily working at a café, where the owners look after her really well. Whilst working, Jemima is looking at ways of accessing University to do a Midwifery course.

On Saturday we heard that Amy who was particularly lacking in confidence has been offered a job in the tourist industry at Crealy which is regarded as the South West’s number one family day out. Amy’s story is particularly inspiring as her first interview with Crealy coincided with day one of the REEP programme and she did not get the job. Her lack of self-confidence was the main barrier. Nevertheless, despite initially feeling crushed by this news, Amy picked herself up and battled on during the next 10 days of the programme, gaining in confidence and learning presentation and interview techniques. At the end of the programme Craig Clews Assistant General Manager at Crealy Park came to the REEP presentation day and was really impressed by Amy. Craig gave Amy his business card so that she could email him and reapply for the job. This culminated in her achieving her goal.

Craig Clews, Assistant General Manager at Devon’s Crealy Great Adventure Park said: “It was a real pleasure to attend the REEP presentation day and I’m delighted that Amy got in contact with me.  We’re thrilled that she’ll be joining the Crealy Crew. We’re always on the search for new talent, especially those with a ‘Can Do’ attitude and Amy showed just that.  We are fortunate to be able to offer flexible working in a fun environment  at Crealy. New members of the team will join us for our biggest and best year to date.”

Sandra, Amy’s volunteer mentor is particularly delighted that Amy’s determination and goal setting has reaped such positive rewards. Sandra said “Amy was devastated when she was initially unsuccessful at her first interview at Crealy, this shows how empowering this 10 day programme is and how her renewed confidence and skills have resulted in such a positive outcome for Amy”. Sandra will continue to be in contact with Amy as she settles in to her new role at Crealy Park. But the last word, for now, should be from Amy “I’m really excited to have been given this opportunity. Crealy looks like such an exciting place to work and I look forward to being part of the Crealy Crew and embarking on this new adventure.”

More Digital Apprenticeship roles needed

Digital apprentices at COSMIC with laptops
Cosmic harnessing young digital talent

Julie Hawker, Chief Executive, Cosmic, and Board member of the Exeter & Heart of Devon Employment & Skills Board writes –

We’re all very aware that most young people now in their teenage years come with a skill, experience and aptitude for IT and digital technologies ‘built in’. These millennials (born since 2000) have grown up in a world where digital has played a part in every stage of their lives so far – entertainment, healthcare, education, social interaction, communications and more.

At the very same time then consider how many businesses locally are desperately in need of new digital skills and the talent to harness its potential within the business. In fact, when asked most SMEs don’t yet know what digital technologies can offer to improve their businesses – they simply do not have the time, expertise and basic knowledge to start this type of review.

And then, there’s the dilemma which older teenagers are now facing: to go to university in order to develop their knowledge, skills and career opportunities (whilst at the same time racking up student debt of course), or have the courage to step straight into employment or work placement. Or, of course, get the best of both-worlds and find a great apprenticeship!

And so it was against this backdrop that Cosmic set out to develop our own digital apprenticeship programme – harnessing the potential which young people can offer for the growth of our business and partner businesses too. Our first step was to recruit the right individuals, and ideally to get the local schools working with us to provide the links to the recruitment process. Hugely disappointing reactions from these schools – unwilling to promote apprenticeships to students, too busy to share our flyers, or just not keen to interrupt other ‘priority’ school activities. And further disappointment in the balance of applicants when we finally did get enough response – why aren’t more girls interested in IT career paths at the moment?

Pie chart showing lack of female applicants for digital apprenticeships
Pie chart to show the lack of female applicants for digital apprenticeships at Cosmic

Once the recruitment was progressing, and during interviews, the inspiration and motivation levels for the project increased significantly, and we appointed six young guys with huge potential and commitment. During their 12 month programme we enjoyed watching them grow and develop new skills, become great team players, and more importantly take on income-generating roles in our business. We also provided them with major opportunities for work experience in partner organisations – Mole Valley Farmers, Yarlington Housing, Eloquent Technologies. And so the benefits to their development were very valuable.

And at the end of September 2014 Cosmic were able to offer three full-time, permanent roles on our staff – Jack, Alex, Jamie (one of whom already secured employment through the pilot project) are all now a part of the team and further developing their learning, skills and playing a part in business development too. Others who left us at this point have been supported to gain work in other businesses – web development and tech support. And so we look back at the programme with a great deal of pride and also a clear understanding about the value which this project gave us in return. For example –

  • Cosmic has now implemented a Living Wage policy – ensuring that the pathway from apprenticeship (lower paid) to permanent position also comes with a significant increase in wage levels to recognise the contribution made to the business
  • Travel costs to-and-from work are increasingly becoming a barrier for younger employees who seek to gain great jobs but at distance from home. Not just the cost of fuel if they are drivers, but the cost of insurance is massive! And then for those relying on public transport both the time it takes to journey across rural south west, and the costs involved are off-putting. (and so we put in place an additional travel subsidy based on the miles from home)
  • Harnessing young, enthusiastic talent in our business effectively is a challenge – we need structure, planning, quality management and customer focus. They need autonomy (freedom to choose), motivation, incentives, peer-support and (they need but may not want!) understanding how it fits in business – i.e. commercial awareness.
  • Customer service skills are not taught in our education system – and yet they are fundamental to every business! We invested a lot time with apprentices so that they learned and developed great customer service skills. Emails, phone calls, meetings, presentations all provide people with a link to our business and we must get that right every time.

Last month the House of Lords published a report about the significant need for digital skills to be embraced by British businesses – “Make or Break”


The report outlines numerous issues facing businesses and the need for digital skills, and plenty of recommendations for the incoming government in May to focus on –

“Including a digital element in all apprenticeship schemes, as well as offering more digital apprenticeships for specific technology occupations and sectors (taking into account the predicted changes to the labour market), could improve general digital skills”

But more locally, even the business community doesn’t recognise the major challenges ahead and we all need to inform and educate our colleagues and associates more fully. Digital skills will be needed by every business in the years ahead. There isn’t a ‘digital sector’ which will be the only employer of young talent, and we need to have schools, colleges, employers and careers support which understand this context for apprenticeships. And digital businesses and agencies, like Cosmic, are keen to sit at the heart of future developments and to support other employers.