Epitomy Solutions is one of many firms within Sheffield’s growing technical sector that are helping to develop bespoke training initiatives in partnership with local universities to offer degree-level apprenticeships.

With impartial advice from a range of Sheffield City Council initiatives, the opportunity to progress work-based training programmes to address the skills gap appeals to many forward-thinking companies.

Since April 2017, large organisations with a wage bill in excess of £3m per year make a small financial contribution to the government’s apprenticeship levy. This fund can then be used to pay 100% of course fees for employees studying degree-level subjects.

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who do not pay the levy receive funding for 90% of the degree course fees and only have to pay for the remaining 10%.

Epitomy Solutions has embraced the concept and welcomed a new starter in November. The resurgence in apprenticeships is no longer limited to school leavers. Josh Douce, 25, joined Epitomy having already studied a Computer Science degree at Huddersfield University.

Degree-level apprentice Josh Douce with mentor John Stovin
Degree-level apprentice Josh Douce with mentor John Stovin

He said: “The data management and artificial intelligence projects currently being worked on at Epitomy excited me, and the opportunity to be involved in multiple facets of software development was a huge incentive.

“Another attraction was the opportunity to work alongside John Stovin, my mentor at Epitomy, who is also a part-time university lecturer and a frequent speaker at developer conferences.

“With John’s input, I get a rounded view of both the technical subject matter and the latest teaching methods.

“I spend an intensive week-long block studying at Sheffield Hallam University, followed by a week of client work at Epitomy. The three-year course will lead to a qualification in Digital & Technology Solutions, with a focus on Software development.”

The university course is tailored to meet existing and future business needs, merging real-time commercial experience with the latest teaching methods.

“The data management and artificial intelligence projects currently being worked on at Epitomy excited me” – Josh Douce, degree-level apprentice

Andrew Vernon, Epitomy Solutions MD, believes that partnerships between industry and academic institutions are vital. He said: “We realise that this relationship has to be nurtured, but when it works the results are well worth the effort.

“We were one of the first companies to embrace degree apprenticeships. We recognise the value of vocational training and look for graduates with experience. A mix of training and work experience perfectly matches our requirements.

“Epitomy has participated on a number of Innovate UK funding applications, and the work with Sheffield Hallam and the city council’s advisory teams has taken such partnerships to the next level.”

2-Attendees at this years Apprenticeships - Be Inspired event
Attendees at this year’s Apprenticeships – Be Inspired event

Joe Hockney, Business Development Manager at Sheffield Hallam University, is excited about the future of work-learning partnerships.

“We are one of the leading HEI providers of higher and degree-level apprenticeship courses because we were an early adopter and started talking to businesses about what they needed. We now have almost 400 apprentices enrolled.

“It’s a three-way commitment between the employee, university and company. There’s a lot of hard work involved, but the knock-on benefits to the local and wider economy are considerable.

“The work-study partnerships enhance what the area already has to offer and we hope will continue to attract new talent and business to the Sheffield City Region.

“We now offer Higher & Degree Apprenticeships in an expanding range of sectors, including Digital, Healthcare, Management, Construction, Engineering and Food Technology.”

Gareth Urwin, from Sheffield City Council’s Skills Made Easy team, believes that linking industry and education can help to drive the region’s future development.

He said: “There’s a need for people to find work, earn and continue studying. The degree-level apprenticeships help to bridge that gap. Our role has been to educate pupils, parents and businesses to appreciate that the economy has changed and organisations now need more.

“Traditionally, it’s been a Catch 22 situation, trying to get the right mix between work experience and qualifications. Pointing students in the right direction is essential to deliver the best solutions for young people and the city’s employers.

“Improving the connectivity between companies, learning and the local economy will take the region to the next level. Sheffield is one of the cities that lead the way, and we hope to see many more organisations offering degree-led learning opportunities.”

In March 2018, the ‘Apprenticeships: Be Inspired’ event staged at Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield will highlight the opportunities open to employers and young people.

For impartial advice and access to further information about work-based learning pathways, visit www.skillsmadeeasy.org.uk or call 0114 229 6183.

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