What have apprenticeships ever done for us?

Dr Stephen Jeffares

It is national apprenticeship week! This year’s theme is “build the future”. We thought it an opportunity to celebrate the public servants on INLOGOV’s somewhat unique apprenticeship programme that seeks to build the future generation public service leaders.

Picture credit: Mark Cohen, https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

I can’t blame you if you tend to glaze over when you read about apprenticeships.  The world of modern apprenticeships is mired in jargon which can be daunting if not off-putting to those new to it. It was certainly a steep learning curve for colleagues when we first set about designing the programme back in 2016. But please read on.

There are now many universities and other education providers delivering the Senior Leader apprenticeship. But from the beginning we wanted to explore how we could take what a somewhat generic set of management competencies and translate into a vision for the future of public service.

There were moments in 2016 and 2017 where we were starting to regret embarking on that journey but it all fell into place on the morning we welcomed our first cohort to the campus. The energy in the room is always life affirming and reminds you that managers in public service are not the faceless bureaucrats as often portrayed, they are clever, creative, curious and dedicated to their local communities. On top of that, working with groups of public servants is what we do, what we have always done since our formation in the mid 1960s.

Leading and managing public services is a tough job, there is no typical week and work is rarely confined to 9-5. When the financial crash bit in 2009-2010 and the austerity budgets took hold making cuts to the development of public sector leaders was perhaps the easiest and most popular cut to make. Since then, our public servants have had to continually adapt and innovate and adjust to new ways of working, with reduced budgets and higher expectations.  As we emerge from the latest chapter of the global pandemic our local authorities are looking to new ways to support local communities. To succeed we need to develop our leaders.

You could say the apprenticeship levy and programmes like the Senior Leader apprenticeship has thrown management development a lifeline – it offers a means for local authorities to foster the next generation of public service leaders by giving them time away from their day-to-day work, an opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills, build networks with colleagues from across the country and learn from world leading academics in some of the finest research intensive universities.

Last month the second cohort of our programme completed their End Point Assessments, assessed by the Chartered Management Institute. Confirmation that everyone has passed, several with distinction is one of the emails that brightens your day. For this group it is job done as they resume normal duties.

There are three unique features of an apprenticeship programme that distinguish it from your regular part time postgrad qualification. The first is time. Learners are given 20% of their regular working hours a year to dedicate to their studies and development. This puts the student at a huge advantage as all too often part time qualifications have to be completed in evenings, weekends and holidays. This can be jarring to line managers however – they can often be somewhat surprised, horrified even, to consider letting their brightest and best be away for a 5th of a time. But they soon realise it does not mean losing somebody a day a week, that learning can be flexible and fit around major projects, furthermore that off-the job means undertaking special projects and much needed energy and capacity.

The second feature is commitment – The funding is structured to ensure that all parties -learner, line manager and programme leader are committed to each and every apprenticeship. It is this focus that means we can be sure people are on the right programme at the right time and that they are going to be supported through. All too often postgraduate study is undermined by a lack of commitment. It can seem pedantic to have tripartite commitment statements, but it matters and it works.

Third is support – we have always supported our postgraduate learners with academic tutors / dissertation tutors, welfare tutors etc, but apprentices get a dedicated practice tutor who meets with apprentice and line manager regularly to identify priorities, and discuss progress.

This programme is arguably the most demanding programme we have ever delivered.  Not only do our students have to complete 6 taught modules but they have to complete a portfolio evidencing their competencies as a senior leader, a strategic business proposal, a project presentation and a professional discussion with an external assessor. But with the time, commitment and support in place we are seeing first hand it is possible to succeed.

All this week we’ll be taking over the INLOGOV blog. Tomorrow we’ll offer an overview of the programme – its structure and expectations.

Later in the week you can read some accounts of some recent apprentices – what motivated them to do an apprenticeship at this stage in their career, their experiences and their tips for anyone considering applying to the Senior Leader programme.

We’ll be hosting lunchtime webinar on Thursday 3rd March at noon, where you can hear more about the programme and pose questions to me – the Academic Programme Director. You can sign up for the webinar or access to the recording here:

https://bham-ac-uk.zoom.us/webinar/register/2316440021075/WN_SJvks70eRzig6ucW2jrmPQ

Alternatively, if you’d like to speak one to one please email me and we can set up a call [email protected]

Dr Stephen Jeffares is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Digital Government at the Institute for Local government studies. He is also Director of INLOGOV’s Public Management and Leadership apprenticeship programme and author of three books: Hybrid Governance, Hashtag Politics and the Virtual Public Servant.

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