Forging a Flexible Workforce
The Open University as part of the Arc Universities Group (AUG) is a consortium of nine universities working together towards inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.
As the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than two million students worldwide and currently has over 205,000 students, including more than 8,000 overseas.
The Open University works collaboratively with employers and other partners across the Arc to reskill and upskill their workforces. For many years, employers across the public and private sectors have been demanding flexible, work-based learning, which cuts down on disruption to both the business, and the employee’s work and personal commitments. Employers often comment on the immediate benefit felt by the organisation as OU learners learn while they earn.
The Open University works with over 2,480 organisations and three out of four FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses. Apprenticeships are a nature extension of the OU’s philosophy to support people to earn while they earn. We have long invested in the delivery of higher and degree apprenticeships and have offered programmes since 2016. The OU offers apprenticeships in healthcare, social work, policing, digital, systems thinking, leadership and management. Within the Arc, this has given organisations large and small the opportunity to immediately benefit from apprentices’ new skills and knowledge. This drives retention by offering clear development and progression routes to new and existing employees – a vital differentiator for employers in counteracting challenges such as “the Great Resignation”.
But it doesn’t stop there…
Developing digital skills in Oxfordshire
Olamalu is an Oxfordshire-based digital solutions company helping organisations through better use of technology. It was set up in 2009 and co-founder Kate Berman recognised that opportunities for younger people were scarce in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Therefore, the company decided to get involved in apprenticeship programmes and dedicate resources to upskilling employees from the local area.
Olamalu currently has three highly skilled degree apprentices studying with The Open University and is about to hire a fourth one. The Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship programme is funded by a levy transfer and allows Olamalu to continue business growth through challenging times.
“The apprentices are ready to get stuck in and it’s been rewarding to see them grow. Following their study days, the apprentices come back and share with us what they have learned – it’s a fantastic experience.”
Supporting the NHS through upskilling
Digital skills are also in high demand within the NHS, especially since the new challenges of Covid-19. Robson Grant is also on The Open University Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship programme and his skills have come to the fore at Milton Keynes University Hospital.
The hospital’s ‘Apprentice of the Year 2018’ created a tool that allowed people to book a slot for visiting their loved ones safely to manage visitor numbers and track who is visiting. Grant explained: “This has been a great success with almost 7,000 visits in just a couple of months. I feel really proud that I am making a massive difference across the whole hospital – every single ward uses it, including the Intensive Care Unit.
“To see the things I have created improve lives is one of my greatest achievements and I cannot wait to create more applications to help more people. All of this is possible because of the opportunities and support that I have received from the OU and the NHS. The NHS has helped my family in so many ways, so to give back and provide others with help like me is extremely rewarding. This is more than just a regular job - it is a pleasure.”
Progression pathways through collaboration
The Open University also works collaboratively with other educational providers within the Arc to offer clear pathways for learners moving through different levels of education. The OU works with Milton Keynes College and the South Central Institute of Technology (SCIoT) to allow learners to take two years at the College qualifying for an HND (Higher National Diploma), followed by a third top-up year with the OU to achieve a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) Degree awarded by the University. They will follow the same pattern of study at the SCIoT, to obtain a BSc (Honours) Computing & IT Practice.
In addition, the OU is working with the college on a Department of Education Strategic Development Fund pilot to provide training opportunities for skills required by local employers.
A bright and innovative future
These are just some of the success stories as The Open University continues to play a significant role in delivery priority skills needs both within the Arc and the local region. Keen to be visible and proactive in the local business community, the OU has been a headline sponsor of the Milton Keynes Business Achievement Awards (MKBAA) since its inception in 2014.
This year’s theme of ‘MK – Leading the UK’s Green Recovery – Survive, Revive & Thrive’ fits strategically with the OU’s own sustainability commitments and the need to evolve employee skills to face today’s challenges.
The Arc Universities Group is working towards making a step change in the region’s contribution to the national economy. Collaboration and working in partnership will be key to the Arc’s success as the skills landscape evolves, and we recognise the unique contribution the OU can make to this partnership. The Open University has evolved over the past five decades and will continue to do so – supporting local people and businesses in the region, through innovative learning which addresses the challenges faced both within the Arc and the wider UK.