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Sustaining the appetite for sandwich courses

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Higher Education, Skills and training

Back in June, the Government produced a white paper entitled Students at the Heart of the System’ setting out proposals to reform Higher Education and improving the student experience by opening up the market.  For me, one of the main features, which was less talked about, was the need to remove regulatory barriers to encourage more sandwich courses, along with strengthening university-industry links.   Often criticised for prolonging the University experience unnecessarily, I fear that the true benefits of sandwich courses are often ignored, as the potential rewards to individuals and businesses are enormous.

Findings from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) indicate that higher level skills are forecast for the future.  At present, 31% of the UK workforce has a degree level or equivalent qualification and this is set to rise to 42% by 2020.  Combined with significant progress in raising qualification levels over the last 10 years, the supply of higher level skills is strong.  On the demand side however, the scales are barely rising, as higher level job creation is slow and recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that one in five graduates earned less than the average pay for someone educated at an A-level standard.

So where do sandwich courses fit into this problem I hear you ask?  Well, clearly higher level qualifications are not enough to secure higher level jobs.  Therefore sandwich courses present an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in industry and also demonstrate how they can apply their learning. And while many graduates struggle to find appropriately skilled jobs, those who have already completed a year in industry have a firmer grasp of the recruitment process and the skills required to get through the employment net.

Turning to the business gains, sandwich courses are an appetising filling to meeting prevailing skills shortages, as university students can tailor to their requirements, or even building up new skills in their workforce in line with future trends.  This can include the drive towards a low carbon economy, or even the shift towards online or digital tools to stimulate business growth.  Thus sandwich courses can provide a taster to businesses in considering higher level job creation which essentially helps to elevate the much needed demand for higher level skills.

On a practical level too, sandwich courses are a means of attracting talented individuals at a lower cost to businesses, and for a shorter period of time compared to hiring someone on a permanent basis. For instance, Manchester Metropolitan University offers a flexible modular programme to undergraduate and postgraduate accountancy students. This is beneficial to businesses as it incorporates professional body qualifications into the course which reduces their training costs. Mutually beneficial to the student, they too can continue with their studies with industry experience under their belt.

As a Talent and Resources director of Crossrail Ltd and a Commissioner at UKCES, developing and attracting talented individuals is key to my work. So before you dispel what sandwich courses have to offer, chew on some of benefits to both businesses and individuals alike.

Image: Jekyll's sandwich by avlxyz

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  1. Comment by Tony Cufalo posted on

    As a product of a thin sandwich course at Bath University back inthe '80's the experience of 3 different 6-month work placements proved invaluable not only in helping me to chose the sector I wanted to work in but also in accquiring those sought after "employability" skills.

    Yes we were very much seen as "summer cannon fodder" however the benfits were there for both parties.

    30 years on the landscape has moved on but I do think that whilst employers are constantly wringing their hands over the lack of these skills amongst graduates they really do need to step up to the plate and provide the opportunities for young people to gain that vital first experience of the world of work.

    • Replies to Tony Cufalo>

      Comment by Alex Curling posted on

      Hear hear Tony! According to our research, only 6% of employers are prepared to take on "first jobbers" straight from education. Interestingly, those that do are usually very pleased with their new recruits. So how can we get them spreading the word?

  2. Comment by Ros Lucas posted on

    As a freelance Careers/Education Consultant my advice to youngsters wishing to go to university is always to take advantage of any work/industry placement opportunities because it helps not only to put theory into practical application but if shown to be an asset during the placement, a job offer might be at the end of the course.

    In STEM areas and youngsters with good GCSE's I also suggest they take advantage of YINI - the Year in Industry - this will help them to develop their experiences at university.


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