The costs of leaving school early have become clearer. Each additional year of schooling is associated with an 8-13% increase in hourly earnings. It has become essential to acquire new skills as established ones become obsolete. AT&T has 300,000 employees and has to fill 50,000 vacancies annually because of changing skills requirements. Germany is often lauded for its apprenticeships but it has failed to adapt to the knowledge economy according to Andreas Schleicher of the OECD. Many Universities have become too vocational – too focused on old jobs. This makes tuition subsidises woefully wasteful. Today talent will not have to be burdened to find work because work will find the best capabilities for the job. Larger numbers of people with tertiary qualifications is a public good but a paucity of skills cannot drive competitiveness.

Useless degrees from poorly performing universities are a misery. New pathways are needed. One alternative route is an industrially-designed degree-apprenticeship. These opportunities are not internships, a practicum, or other work-based experiences.

Degree apprenticeships deliver a skill and a qualification simultaneously. Students work four days a week and study for one. In the UK a 0.5% levy on all corporations with salary bills exceeding £3 million (A$4.8 million) funds this programme. The levy covers tuition fees allowing apprentices to graduate debt free. This direction could reduce reliance on subsidies for recurrent expenditure in higher education and yield workers with incredibly practical skills need by SMEs and larger businesses. Colonial models of lifelong learning exacerbate inequality with the most advantaged turning to postgraduate qualifications as a talisman against the witches’ broom spreading diploma disease.

Degree Apprenticeships are written by Captains of Industry, Chambers of Commerce, Manufacturers Associations, and Universities. These partnerships develop practical, vocational degree content that combine the academic life of a traditional university degree and the practical experience of work. They nurture and foster the development of skills which is required for youth to get on in life and which have the backing of business to create the jobs as part of a long-term competitiveness strategy. It is a head start that combines a degree with skills needed in the workplace and the financial security of a regular pay packet.

The Caribbean Development Bank and CARICOM are critical drivers of innovation and reform, as they are mandated to craft the 2030 Human Resource Development and Manpower Strategy to meet the high-level technical skills challenge of the future of work. What futures are we educating for? This partnership will blur the boundaries of tertiary credentials and vocational skills allowing apprentices to achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, whilst on the job. It is an attractive route to work and will close the skills gap. The cost of course fees for apprenticeships can be shared between government and employers allowing the apprentice to get a degree without paying any fees. The local manufacturing sector is demanding an ever increasing, higher-level of skills. These economically valuable industries can only grow and prosper if highly-skilled employees are there for the taking. The world of work must now step up to the plate and shape this agenda. It offers young people another accessible and attractive way to unlock their talent and ensure that we have the high-skilled workforce critical for economic growth. Governments and businesses can negotiate the ratio of the financial burden that each partner might be willing to bear.

A Board of Industrial Training (BIT) with representation from all stake holders along with the NTA will need to develop new apprenticeship standards with employers as part of the strategy to improve the quality of apprenticeships and to put employers in the driving seat. To create talent rather than consume work employers can increase internal training budgets and the state subsidies channelled to buttress bespoke training in the workplace using a range of accredited MOOC providers. Employees on the other hand can be expected to create and maintain a personal career profile and use ‘career intelligence’ to plot a personal training path linked to their annual performance appraisal.