Leader: Apprenticeships – getting there!


Over the last year, the Society’s Education and Research Committee (ERC) has become simply the Education Committee (EC) as the Research Panel has grown and formally assumed as a Society Committee its great work of making sure that OR is represented within the wider research community and funding agencies. This has enabled the EC to focus on its core remit.

Evelyn Hardy, our Education Officer, has taken forward the continuing work of our OR in Education (ORiE) programme, renamed from OR in Schools (ORiS) so as to embrace both schools and universities. This move was in fact a recognition of reality, as the ORiS taskforce was already overseeing the full scope of education outreach including universities. The new ORiE sub-brand and logo was launched last September with its own striking purple colour. Appreciative thanks go to Vicki Walker for leading the OriS Taskforce until recently and a warm welcome to Matthew Robinson, the new ORiE Taskforce chair.

Evelyn is now more a volunteer coordinator than a ‘volunteer’ to visit schools. This enables her to better help facilitate visits and talks, provide support with updated resources including videos, and hemp make all necessary arrangements. Eve is also representing the society at meetings of the Joint Mathematical Council.

She has also written an article in this edition of Inside OR; please do have a look if you would like to learn more about The OR Society’s education outreach work or how to get involved with it.

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The major development in 2019 was the development of the Level 7 postgraduate Apprenticeship Standard in the occupation of “OR Specialist”. Apprenticeships at all levels, not just Level 7, enable employers to leverage their Apprenticeship Levy payments to provide employees with education and training. For The OR Society, an OR Apprenticeship at the postgraduate level is a strategic project to compensate for the drop in the number of UK-based graduates from UK MSc courses, many of which are composed mainly of international students. The MSc route into the OR profession used to account for over 75% of new UK entrants into the UK OR workforce, but nowadays accounts for under 10%.

So how is this progressing? In January 2019, a Trailblazer Group (TG) of OR employers was formed to develop an “occupational standard” for a postgraduate Level 7 Apprenticeship for an “OR Specialist”. The development and approval process is managed by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfA). The Education Committee (EC) of The OR Society helped to set up the group, but it now functions independently of ORS, chaired by Alec Waterhouse of the Government OR Service.

The EC liaises closely with Alec and the TG, and is briefing UK universities to be informed and prepared to become “providers” for the OR Level 7 Apprenticeship when its occupational standard and “End Point Assessment” (EPA) plan are approved for delivery by the IfA, probably in mid-2020. The diagram shows the process stages achieved so far or still under development.

In the diagram, note the red lettering. The “funding band” will set an upper limit on how much can be charged per apprentice by a provider using an employer’s Levy contribution. The IfA will allocate the funding band based on provision costs submitted by three potential providers during the approval process. In addition, the EPA will be carried out by a third organisation whose costs per apprentice must also be met from the funding band amount. 

Thus, a university that becomes a provider must keep its costs well within the funding limit. Any extra costs would have to be met in other ways, for example, an employer might top up from outside its Levy funds (0.5% of payroll for large employers. For many UK universities, being a provider might appear to be uneconomical and/or complex.


We now need to:

  1. Identify which UK universities are interested in being a provider for the Level 7 Apprenticeship for an OR Specialist.
  2. Find three potential providers who are willing to submit training quotes so that the IfA has evidence to make a funding band recommendation. The training providers must be on the Register of Approved Training Providers (RoATP) – most universities already are.
  3. Find a potential end-point assessment organisation (EPAO) to submit a quote for our EPA plan. 

So do let me know if you are interested in being a provider, including being a quoting provider, or know of any EPAOs that have worked well for L7 Apprenticeships in occupations affine to OR.

Apprenticeships do offer an excellent additional opportunity for universities to be “providers” of education in partnership with employers, but it does mean conforming more tightly to externally imposed content specifications than many universities may have been used to and to keeping costs well within funding bands.

Will all universities want to become providers? Those that are more focused on research and or have highly profitable MSc course (with a good proportion of oversea students paying high fees) might not be interested. Some might also be put off by the label “Apprenticeship” which until now has had a non-degree skills connotation. Apprenticeships are new, non-traditional and provision can be challenging to deliver. However, we know several universities are definitely interested, including at least four pre-92 non-Russell ones and a post-92 one. So, the TG/EC focus is now to cultivate this interest. Let us know if you too are interested if you work for a university or any other potential provider.