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Leading the way for project management Graduate Apprenticeships in Scotland

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On 18th December 2019, I was part of a group of APM corporate member representatives who met with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to lobby for project management apprenticeships in Scotland. This was in response to the growing demand for project management skills north of the border, and to follow suit with England where the Higher Apprenticeship in project management and the Degree Apprenticeship in project management were already established. We were therefore very pleased that, through collaboration with APM and employers, SDS successfully launched the Level 8 (RQF Level 5) Technical Apprenticeship in project management less than a year later.  

Besides addressing the critical skills shortage in project controls, scheduling and analysis, the introduction of the Technical Apprenticeship in project management has enabled employers to grow talent within their existing workforce and forms the structure of project management development training in several major Scottish-based organisations. Indeed, over recent years the Scotland Branch of APM has witnessed, first-hand, the impact of the apprenticeship programme on early career project managers, not only at the attendance of networking events but also at our Project Challenge where apprentices have presented highly professional and impressive solutions to real-world project challenges.  

Whereas we have observed positive effects of the Technical Apprenticeship, the Graduate Apprenticeship in project management has yet to gain momentum in Scotland. Over two years since its launch, no Scottish University has delivered the project management pathway as part of their  Business Management Graduate Apprentice Degrees. So far only one Scottish university is planning to launch the degree option in September 2024. This is despite reports of the significant popularity and growth of project management degree apprenticeships south of the border. As in England, the framework was developed in collaboration with APM, employers and academics. Typically, the four-year degree programme involves 80% work-based learning and 20% of academic study, with assessments designed collaboratively between the employer and the university. Furthermore, consistent across the UK, the programme includes APM Qualifications as critical components of apprenticeship training.    

However, due to the funding constraints in Scotland, for a Scottish university to develop and implement a project management graduate apprentice degree pathway, there needs to be tangible and measurable industry demand. Conversely, universities need to work with employers and the professional body to develop a degree offering that not only adds value to the apprentice in terms of knowledge and employability, but also adds employer value in terms of enhancing their organisational project management capability. By working in partnership with employers, universities could develop Graduate Apprentice offerings that deliver bespoke training and higher-level outcomes as part of an organisation's internal project management academy. Building on the knowledge and skills gained through a Technical Apprenticeship would allow focus on project leadership and professionalism in the final years of study. This includes critical subjects of project governance, programme management and managing strategic change. A valuable degree offering should also develop fundamental knowledge in agile, digital literacy and AI technologies. Most importantly, it should prepare apprentices for the APM Project Professional Qualification (PPQ) and the Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) standard, going forward.  

In considering the challenges that the current funding model presents for universities to roll out new graduate apprentice degrees, perhaps it is time, yet again, for APM corporate members to intervene in the advancement of project management apprenticeships in Scotland. As a new Regional Network, we will be reaching out to Scottish universities to see how APM can support the development and implementation of effective Project Management Graduate Apprentice programmes. We will also be asking our corporate members to consider their own project management capability and development programmes. Fundamental questions should ask how investment in project management graduate apprenticeships will address the future needs of the organisation, and how we, as the project management community in Scotland, can support the effective delivery of the much needed qualification.  


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