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Our degree apprenticeships are bringing benefits for businesses

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Published on 24 November 2017

Helen Baker with Toby Jennings, Matthew Farnell, Carl Brown, Danny Goodall, Connor Devlin, and Jordan Stafford (right) at Sage in Newcastle
Helen Baker with Toby Jennings, Matthew Farnell, Carl Brown, Danny Goodall, Connor Devlin, and Jordan Stafford (right) at Sage in Newcastle

Switched on employers are using our higher and degree apprenticeships to transform their workforce and attract fresh new talent. 

By working with the University of Sunderland on our programme of higher and degree apprenticeships, businesses are discovering the benefits of combining the best of higher education with vocational training.

Apprentices are employees who spend most of their time in the workplace, supported by dedicated study time with the University. The programmes can be tailored to meet the needs of employers and larger organisations can even use their apprenticeship levy and government top-up to pay for the tuition and professional fees. For smaller employers, the government pays 90%, with the remainder co-invested by the business.


Case study: Sage Group

Sage Group, whose head office is in North Park, Newcastle, has maintained strong links with the University of Sunderland for several years – employing graduates and collaborating with academics and course leaders on programme content.

Like many of the companies it serves, Sage began as a small business and has grown to a global employer of over 13,000 people, supporting millions of entrepreneurs across 23 countries.

It strongly believes in investing in its workforce and saw the opportunity that the Government’s apprenticeship levy offered.

Helen Baker, QA Director for Sage Product Engineering in the United Kingdom and Ireland, said: “Sage’s relationship with the University of Sunderland has been there for a really long time; we’ve worked with many of the members of the academic team, through Dynamo [the volunteer led group set up to grow the North East IT economy] for example, and we’ve also had Sunderland graduates come and be successful here. It was a natural choice when we were talking about apprenticeships to contact Professor Alastair Irons and see what Sunderland had to offer. The Digital Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship programme fits our skills requirements extremely well and with the opportunity to re-shape it if we need to, we know that the apprenticeship will meet our skills training needs in the short and longer term.

“This apprenticeship programme enables our apprentices to get hands-on practice in a broad set of development, testing, networking and IT skills. The students have the opportunity to learn the theory but also then rapidly apply it and practically explore what they have learnt back in the office. The students often bring fresh ideas and approaches, our existing team members develop their own coaching skills and all of this takes place as we develop our software and help the business to reach its goals, so it’s win, win, win!”

Steve Carter, Emerging Talent Lead for Sage UK and Ireland: “Here at Sage we have real commitment to people development and to bring in fresh minds. But of course it’s not all about bringing new people into the business, it’s also about developing our brilliant existing team members, to meet today’s and tomorrow’s business challenges and for us all to grow. Our work around the levy fund and with partners, such as the University, is really exciting and should take people development to a whole new level. This is ground-breaking for Sage, these are the first degree apprenticeships we’ve ever had so that’s one of the really enticing aspects of the new levy world.


Attracting women into computer science

On the opportunities for women Helen commented: “This is a really interesting workplace and sector, with very varied and creative work - lots of opportunities. We need to help young people understand the types of skills that technology companies will need in the future and get that message out as early as possible – way before they’re heading into Secondary education. Sage is doing a lot of work in schools, talking to teachers and sharing what technology really means these days and the opportunities for everyone. I think it’s important that I am a good role model for women working successfully in a technology company, especially as my route into the industry was fairly unplanned. I now see more girls’ hands go up when I go into schools and ask who would like to work at Sage. That’s a small but great start.”


Degree apprentice, Connor Devlin, said: “The opportunity to do a degree apprenticeship was everything I could wish for - Sage is investing in me, so it’s great to know they obviously believe in me. I hope having the degree will take me to a new level at work that I couldn’t have reached without it – pushing me forwards in a sector that I really want to work in.

“My experience of the University has been really positive; I didn’t appreciate how big a degree is, particularly with an apprenticeship on top, but I like to push myself. There are so many positives to doing a degree apprenticeship, and it gives you a theoretical understanding of the job in hand; don’t let the amount of work put you off, as at the end of it you’re going to reap the benefits.”

Degree apprentice Jordan Stafford said: “I knew I wanted to do an apprenticeship as I wanted hands-on experience. I love doing the degree as well as working, it’s a good balance. The lecturers have been good, the culture reminds me of Sage, everyone is approachable and will chat with you. They are really helpful and you know they’re available if you need to ask for help.

“I’ve moved into Sage One development, which is such an exciting new product because it’s constantly evolving and always updating and that’s definitely where I want to be. So I want to complete my degree and continue working at Sage; they’ve invested so much in me, and I just love working here. It’s a pleasure to come to work every day.”



The University of Sunderland offers a range of higher and degree apprenticeships in collaboration with businesses and health partners, with more in development. These include: Digital and Technology BSc (Hons) Digital and Technology Solutions Management and Leadership BA (Hons) Management and Leadership Practice and Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship.  

For more information and entry requirements telephone 0191 515 3555 / email apprenticeships@sunderland.ac.uk or visit sunderland.ac.uk/apprenticeships