Over the next five years, the UK construction industry will need an additional 158,000 workers, with labour shortages reported at all levels including construction trades, technical, professional and managerial jobs.

Meeting this shortage is a huge challenge for education and training providers. If we fail, we will be leaving the UK without the skills it needs to address our housing crisis, to ensure we have the infrastructure we need to do business in the 21st century, and to rise to challenges we can’t even see yet. We would also be letting down learners, by failing to provide them with the opportunities to succeed.

At University College of Estate Management (UCEM), we see degree apprenticeships as an important way of addressing current skills gaps. They allow students to get the skills they need, and simultaneously help meet industry needs – a win-win.

UCEM specialises in offering part-time degree programmes for people in employment who are aiming to develop their career in the land, property and construction industries. So it was clear to us right from the start that we needed to be involved in the degree apprenticeship initiative.

UCEM offers an innovative delivery model for our Chartered Surveyor apprenticeship (our first degree apprenticeship, launched in 2015), based on supported online education via our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), supplemented with face-to-face workshops twice a semester. Our approach has proved popular with employers looking for a more flexible alternative to a traditional, rigidly timetabled day-release model. Large employers with multiple sites across the country appreciate our single, national solution, which means they don’t have to work with different providers in each region. The distance learning model is also convenient for smaller employers, and those who have no alternative provision in their local area.

Of course, degree apprenticeship delivery comes with a steep learning curve. A central challenge is ensuring that apprentices receive the right type and level of workplace experience, so that they can pass their end-point assessment. In the case of the Chartered Surveyor apprenticeship this is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ Assessment of Professional Competence, a prestigious qualification, which provides the launchpad to a rewarding career as a surveyor.

To achieve this we have helped employers establish programmes which expose apprentices to different areas of the business, providing a broad understanding of the construction industry and of the roles of the different parties. This could involve working in client, consultant or contractor roles, and may cross organisational boundaries, for example through placements in the employer’s supply chain. Not only does this help apprentices develop the skills and behaviours required to complete the programme successfully, it also enables UCEM to build deeper relationships with partner employers, contributing to their corporate recruitment and training objectives rather than merely acting as the provider of a part-time degree.

While degree apprenticeships present a huge opportunity for employers, universities and the apprentices themselves, there are still a number of challenges which constrain the success of the apprenticeships agenda. These include funding caps being set at levels which are well below the cost of delivery, long delays in approving apprenticeship standards (so that, to date, we are only able to offer the Chartered Surveyor apprenticeship), and procurement barriers especially where universities wish to work with non-Levy paying employers or government bodies.

We hope these challenges can be addressed, so that degree apprenticeships can have an even greater impact on revitalising part-time higher education in the UK.

Stephen Bartle

Director of Commercial and Business Development, UCEM