While we await progress with the Higher Education and Research Bill and for the national innovation plan to uncover new initiatives to build a better Britain, apprenticeships stand out as the flagship policy for improving productivity.

At the National Centre we have started canvassing our partners for their views and practice regarding apprenticeships in bespoke roundtables. The first roundtable took place on July 25th with 10 employers learning from each other about how the new initiatives can be worked out to the employer advantage, in conversation with the Skills Funding Agency and the Institute for Apprenticeships.

The productivity plan brought about two fundamental changes in the apprenticeships landscape in the UK
· to expand the offer of qualifications, a new type of apprenticeship that will be equivalent to a higher education degree: a degree apprenticeship.
· to finance increased support and higher supply of apprenticeships, the larger scale employers (over £3 million wage bill) will pay an apprenticeship levy of 0.5% of their wage bill.

These changes hit the core of talent co-development initiatives between businesses and universities that we have been supporting and informing for the past few years. Before these changes came about, at the National Centre we had been working with our partners in improving evidence and understanding of talent co-development: from clarifying the meaning of work experience and its importance as a recruitment tool, to establishing the multiple motives for engaging in workforce development with HE students, as a gateway to talent.

Together with our partners we have developed a good ground level understanding of how work experience is part of a portfolio of human resource (HR) practices, carefully balanced to fit employer needs. Insofar as employer need is the driver of employer-led initiatives, talent co-development practices are unevenly distributed across sectors, and across occupations, and they need not follow HE graduation closely. This however has not been a barrier to successful talent co-development, aimed at accessing talent early and giving HE student generic, work-related skills, rather than specific knowledge.

Degree apprenticeships and the levy will inevitably change the existing balance in the portfolio of talent co-development practices used by business with universities. If nothing else, the possibility of recouping part of the apprenticeship levy by having apprentices in-house will change the relative worth of apprentices vis-a-vis others, such as interns, work experience placements, or sponsorship.

All policies target behavioural change in some way or another, so engagement with the new offer early is a must, but it is also clear that a new balance in talent co-development portfolios will not be achieved overnight. Lessons will be learned during the transition that can smooth the road to that balanced and more productive future. In our role as convenors of university business collaboration, the National Centre will provide a forum for our partners to share practice, find ways to work with an uneven landscape, and endow universities, business, and public funders, with relevant credible evidence to inform the transition along.

The next challenge, as we heard at the roundtable on July 25th, is how can UK-wide employers square a funding policy that applies only to England to HR practices meant to apply across all four devolved administrations, without appearing to discriminate against place…

And we are just at the beginning. More of these hurdles require collective solutions that will come in the transition, the National Centre is in listening mode and you are invited to try and to debate and to learn with us…