Dr Amna Khan: degree apprenticeships are driving better inclusivity and diversity outcomes in tech

Dr Amna Khan, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, says degree apprenticeships are creating more diverse opportunities in the world of STEM

Universities have a significant role to play in improving the life chances of young people and helping deliver the skills that the country needs to prosper.

We know for some, the traditional route of a three-year, on-campus degree course is not an avenue that is either available or suits their life.

So in 2015 we were one of the first universities to launch degree apprenticeships and now Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading provider, with over 2,500 people starting on the programmes in the last five years and some 544 employers in partnership with us, including some of the biggest names in tech.

In our Force for Change report (2021), launched to mark the five year milestone for our scheme, the findings confirmed that degree apprenticeships were also acting as a fast-track ladder for social mobility.

It confirmed that apprenticeships continue to provide options for those people who would not have chosen a traditional degree, were being rapidly adopted and proven to boost earnings and occupational mobility opportunities.

Findings from the report revealed that overall,  40% of Manchester Metropolitan degree apprentices are the first generation in their family to go to university.

Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also benefiting. According to Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data, 36% of all Manchester Metropolitan apprentices are from the most deprived areas, a trend that has improved over time, from 26% in 2015/16. This data is even more significant for “mature” learners, with approximately 50% coming from the lower half of the IMD range.

Manchester Metropolitan cohorts are becoming more ethnically diverse, with an increase in Black, Asian and minority ethnic apprentices, from 10% in 2015-16 to 19% in 2020-21.

Degree apprenticeships are also championing alternative routes into STEM for women. Around  34% of current Manchester Metropolitan STEM apprentices are women, a substantial improvement on the national undergraduate average of 22%.

Around  34% of current Manchester Metropolitan STEM apprentices are women, a substantial improvement on the national undergraduate average of 22%.

Zaman, digital and technology solutions degree apprentice, said: “Thanks to my apprenticeship, I have transitioned from a newcomer in the cyber security industry with no prior work experience, to being a certified cyber security subject matter expert, managing a small team of cyber security specialists. This means that I have moved up five promotion grades whilst working at Lloyds, in the space of three years. Something that has only been possible due to my apprenticeship.”

Employers have welcomed it. Kashif, apprenticeship lead at IBM, said:  “Degree apprenticeships enable IBM to attract diverse talent, which is essential for innovation. Our degree apprentices have proven to be highly successful in terms of their career velocity and adding value to the business.

“Our apprentices work in a variety of different roles across multiple industries and have been involved in critical projects that have directly impacted the UK. This gives our apprentices a real sense of job satisfaction, as they can see how their hard work is contributing to society.”

In a telling post-script, he also said: “Increasingly, IBM’s clients want apprentices to be included in the implementation of our solutions.”

Manchester Metropolitan University runs a Dragons’ Den initiative to inspire sixth formers at Abraham Moss Community School

First in the family to go to uni?

Our First Generation Scholarship Programme continues to support young people who are the first in their family to go to university.  It is co-funded by the University and donors to the University, delivers practical support and application guidance to Year 12 and 13 students, whose parents or guardians did not have the same opportunities, to help them access and transition to higher education.

First Generation Scholars studying with us receive a bursary of £1,000 in their first year and the opportunity to attend a fully-funded employability event/programme alongside continued professional support throughout their studies.

Dragons’ Den initiative with local school

Abraham Moss Community School is a thriving, multicultural community, which prides itself on its harmony and success based in North Manchester. We have had a long association with the school and run an annual Dragons’ Den project where pupils are invited to present innovative ideas to a team of staff and ambassadors from the university’s Business School.

The scheme never fails to deliver outstanding ideas from the Year 9 students, driving really interesting and aspirational discussions about business enterprise, its challenges and opportunities, and empowering pupils to think beyond their circumstances.

A recent CIO magazine piece by Bob Violino showcased companies developing close ties with local universities to tackle skills shortages. From establishing tech incubators to providing STEM education grants, or supporting degree apprenticeships like ours, we are seeing companies not only facilitating key IT skills development, but doing it in a diverse and inclusive manner with meaningful, life-changing results for all concerned.

That is called force for change.

Dr Amna Khan recently discussed many of the issues raised in the piece at Manchester Tech Week 2022, discussing how current company cultures need to change to put inclusion first, misconceptions around career advancement and how to support the next generation of tech talent.

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