Graduate Preparedness For a Managerial Role


This literature review will provide a comprehensive understanding of the way different researchers have debated the topic on the preparedness for a managerial role viewing being influenced by either a traditional degree or a degree apprenticeship. This research question is important because, since the introduction of degree apprenticeships in 2015, school leavers have have had a dilemma whether to pursue a traditional degree or a degree apprenticeship (Inge, 2019). The upcoming trend that can be observed in many news reports and preferences among household discussions is that more school-leavers are opting for degree apprenticeships, which involves both work and study, over earning a bachelor’s degree alone. Largely, this dichotomy has significant impact on the way people perceive academic and professional development. For example, some may relate the difference between a traditional degree and a degree apprenticeship as making a course application and engaging job competition, respectively.


As the discourse concerning the traditional degree and degree apprenticeship has been going on in the public scene, the former and the latter have been pitched against each other. The public consistently compares and contrasts traditional university degrees with degree apprenticeships in terms of the short- and long-term gains (Taylor-Smith et al., 2019; Rowe et al., 2016). For example, while apprentices grant a scholar a head start at work, those who opt for traditional degrees are likely to earn over £500,000 more in the long-run, in terms of wages (Banning-Lover, 2016). Even though this trend still holds, there is research to show that those who engage in higher apprenticeships will eventually have higher lifetime earnings than graduates from some of the universities in the UK. University graduates from universities like Russel Group and Oxbridge are affirmed to result in top wage jobs, although, there is more evidence for the increase in earning power from the best apprenticeships. The introduction of apprenticeship levy in 2017 by the UK government reshaped by exerting new dimension into apprenticeship. The compulsory tax requiring employers with a pay bill exceeding £3 million annually to help in funding development and apprenticeships delivery and majorly driven by aim of plugging skills gaps, attract and retain talent, as well as pumping new perspective and thinking into workplace. Survey has linked empowering workforces towards individual and collective potential on career development and self-actualization, as advocated by the apprenticeships, goes a long way in uplifting organization and steering business growth (Dobre, 2013; Ngai et al., 2016). Building on this basis, this research aims to explore gaps in the conversation concerning traditional degrees versus degree apprenticeships influencing graduate preparedness on managerial role as well as responsibilities.

Literature Review

The Graduate Job Market Theory

The Human Capital Theory asserts that investment in human capital leads to greater economic output (Becker, 1994). On the other hand, Mcguinness (2016), in an article that reviewed literature on overeducation, assessed the consistency of overeducation in the context of theoretical frameworks that included the Human Capital Theory. The paper discussed the different controversies associated with studies of overeducation to provide an evaluation of the extent to which the effects of the phenomenon is a reality in economics, contrary to being a statistical artefact. According to Dolton and Silles (2008), over-education describes the degree to which one possesses an educational qualification in excess of the requirement that is necessary for their job. The interest in this phenomenon has grown as economist are trying to evaluate the effects that the continued rapid increase in academic participation rates has become a central feature of labour market policies in most developed countries. Building from McQuaid and Lindsay (2005) assertion on the concept of employability particularly on the emergence of tenet of labour approach towards social and economic policy. According to Tomlinson (2012), the result of the promotion of the concept has reshaped perception on the requirements and qualities for one to be employed or rather the qualities labour market seek in for one to qualify for a given job position. Boden and Nedeva (2010) described employability as ability for one to be employed, retained, and secure new employment if need be by possessing a given set of skills, knowledge, and personal and collective attributes. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) described employability as “Employability is the possession by an individual of the qualities and competencies requird to meet the changing needs of employee and customers and thereby help to realise his or her aspirations and potential in work” (CBI, 1999, p. 1). As contended by McQuaid and Lindsay (2005), although the concept obscure two decades ago, it current commands the labour market and related policy formulation not only in the European but also at global stage.

Across the global, most governments today have a provision that almost 50 percent of people aged under 30 should take advantage of some degree of higher education (Sutherland, 2008; Marginson, 2016; Kucel, 2011). After reviewing the literature, Dolton & Silles (2008) and Carroll & Tani (2013) concluded that the effects of overeducation are non-trivial and the phenomenon may be costly to firms, individuals, and the economy. The event of overeducation also raises doubts with regards to the validity of some key predictions and presumptions of Human Capital Theory that are not likely to be entirely explained by gaps that exist in the framework of standard wage equation (Ramos et al., 2012; Sicherman, 1991; Bu, and Pollmann‐Schult, 2004). Mcguinness (2016) opines that the policies that aim at expanding the rates of educational participation assume that graduate labour demand increases or hiring of graduates by firms will improve their techniques of production to take advantage of a labour force that is more educated. Verhaest and Van der Velden (2012) concluded that as individuals, workers that are overeducated, by virtue of the fact that some percentage of their investment in education is unproductive, are most likely to earn low return on their investment relative to individuals who are similarly educated and their jobs match their qualifications. Peiró et al. (2010) added that workers who are overeducated might also incur costs that are transitory because of low-level job satisfaction.

It is also possible that workers who were previously well-matched may be driven out of the job market as workers who are overeducated move into occupations that are low-level. This raises the mean educational level within the professions, which renders some individuals who are adequately educated undereducated (Belfield, 2010; Wald, and Fang, 2008). Although some degree of bumping down occurs at educational categories that are higher, nothing suggests that individuals who are at lower spectrum of education had been forced out of the labour market (Leuven, and Oosterbeek, 2011). Using the human capital theory, it is evident that degree apprenticeship does not influence the preparedness of graduates for managerial roles. This is because, according to the human capital theory, apprentices would have to be overpaid to match their worth to employers. For this reason, without subsidies from the government, employers would not participate in apprenticeship programs.

However, the Human Capital Theory contradicts views held by Mcguinness (2016) that over-education may lead to low returns on investment in education. Human Capital Theory suggests that society and individuals gain economic values from investment in people (Sweetland, 2016). The human capital theory assumes that education determines the marginal productivity of labour and determines people’s earnings (Marginson, 2017). Human Capital Theory has been dominating economics, public understanding, and policy of the relationship between work and education (Barone, and Ortiz, 2011; Ortiz, and Kucel, 2008.). It is widely presumed that intellectual formation involves an economic capital mode, and that higher education is preparation for work, and that knowledge is what primarily determines the outcomes of graduates and not social background (Marginson, 2017).

The Graduate Identity theory also attempts to answer the question on graduate preparedness and employability. Holmes (2001) explored the graduate identity idea with his starting point in graduate identity was rooted on the lack of satisfaction with the idea of graduate employability in terms of acquisition of skills. According to Holmes (2001), the skills approach does not take into consideration the complexity of being a graduate because of the presumption that skills and performance must be observable and measurable. Hinchliffe and Jolly (2010 suggest that performance depends on interpretation of a situation but the ability to interpret is not measurable in a straightforward sense. Interpretation is also complex itself and depends on both understanding of a situation with regards to practice and understanding agents with regards to their identity in the context of practice. Therefore, the identity theory suggests that graduates do not have single fixed identity (Hogg, and Adelman, 2013; Tomlinson, 2012). Building from the argument, when evaluating graduates’ potential, employers use other criteria other than performance and, thus, it is difficult to conclude whether a apprenticeship degree prepares one better for a managerial role compared to traditional graduate degree.

Although the UK is urging higher education students to view their studies as an investment that will benefit them directly, the relationship between the academic credential and their returns in the job market has been changing at the same time over the past decades (Leuven, and Oosterbeek, 2011; Stuart et al., 2014). Tomlinson (2008), in a qualitative study examining ways in which 53 final year undergraduate students in a pre-1992 perceived and understood role of higher education academic credentials with regards to their employability in future. The study showed that higher education students view their academic qualifications as having a purpose that is declining in determining their employment outcomes. They perceive graduate job market as congested. While students still understand academic credentials as still significant in determining their employability, they increasingly see the need to add value to academic qualifications to gain an edge in the job market (Brown, 2016; Tomlinson, 2008).

The Apprenticeship Levy

Apprenticeships are when jobs combine training with work. Apprenticeships can play a crucial role in ensuring that people develop skills that society and the economy need. Each apprenticeship has content that may be set out in ‘standard’ or ‘framework.’ However, frameworks decreasing being used as standards take over as standards are designed by employers in the sector to determine the skills, behaviours, and knowledge that apprentices are needed to acquire (Wolter, and Ryan, 2011). Over 300 of possible 600 standards had been approved by 2018 (Behringer, 2017). Further, studying the overall aims of the apprenticeship levy, (Amin-Smith & Sibieta, 2018) looked into the levies aims, such as to increase total training of the workforce, and to assist in funding the three million apprenticeship starts from the government. While the objectives of the apprenticeship levy are clear, it is crucial to correct for underinvestment in training of the workforce, and people need to understand how employers react to the introduction of the levy. According to Brewer (2013), apprenticeships have been proven to result in benefits for employers, apprentices, and the economy.

However, as mentioned before, there is a significant issue of how to stimulate employers to demand apprenticeship training and to get them to invest in this form of exercise. To consider how far the levy will go in overcoming the problem, it is essential first to have an understanding of the factors that can facilitate employers to invest and the factors that are likely to create obstacles to employers' training and giving apprentices job opportunities (Bailey, 2010; Steedman, 2012). According to Behringer (2017), about 24 percent of employers that are not already taking part in apprenticeships indicated that they are planning to provide them in future. Eighty eight percent of employers who are already engaging in apprenticeship plan to continue providing apprenticeships (Behringer, 2017). This percentage represents about a third of all employers in the UK that plan to offer apprenticeships. However, this figure has not materialised fully in employers’ uptake of apprenticeship.

The results also indicate that some of the reasons that employers give for not providing apprenticeships are mostly structural. The reasons include capacity to train and take on apprentices and cost considerations. Furthermore, employers refuse to take on apprentices as they do not need specific skills among their employees or they prefer recruiting skilled workers who are ready from the labour market. More employers do not offer apprenticeships because of different kinds of market failure, and a lack of knowledge regarding the benefits of apprenticeship might bring to a firm or the net cost the business will incur in training apprentices (Lee, 2012; Albanese et al., 2017). Other employers are also risk-averse. In a labour market like the UK that is buoyant and flexible, an employer may not be sure about appropriation of the returns from investments in apprenticeships. Unless employers have practices and policies in place to ensure that they retain their apprentices once training is complete, they will be risking losing their apprentices. For this reason, as pointed by Muehlemann & Wolter (2011) and Lewis et al. (2008), they will be investing in training employees for their competitors.

As such, one question that should be asked is whether apprenticeship will be relevant in the future. Smith (2019) writes that changes are rapidly occurring to occupations and will continue happening because of advanced technology. Companies are also increasingly operating globally. Schmid (2008) and Blossfeld (2008) opine that there has been a change in the labour market in terms of employment in many countries, from manufacturing and primary industry to service industries. Further, patterns of migration and non-standard forms of employment, such as the ‘gig economy’ is affecting many workers (Wood et al., 2019; Oliver, 2015). In addition, other changes are affecting the future of employment. Smith (2019) states that since apprenticeships involve training and employment of workers and generally involve oversight and management by governments, they will probably be affected more by the challenges of future jobs than other forms of training or employment. This implies that apprenticeships will continue to be an arena for policies of governments including regulations and the shaping of the behaviour of funding (Brockmann et al., 2010; Chankseliani et al. (2017). Hodgson et al. (2017) adds that there has been minimal action regarding apprenticeship systems even though could be disruptive to networks that exist now. As discussed above, apprenticeship may have no place in future. Thus, it will not influence graduate preparedness for managerial roles.

Smith (2019) found that processes and systems adaptations were being pursued at the company by stakeholders such as employer peak bodies and trade unions at company level. However, these adaptations were not frequent in government policies. The study by Greene & Staff (2012) and Bai et al. (2012) analysed data to come up with a model of readiness for future work. The study also asked questions about whether adapting systems of apprenticeship is desirable in every instance. Smith (2019) posits that although multiple stakeholders being present in the order has been seen as a strength, it can make even changes that are minor challenging to implement. Fuller and Unwin (2014) also warns that this could be a significant obstacle to the future of apprenticeship or could be a way of preserving the features of apprenticeship that are essential. However, Heyes & Hastings (2017) and Suarta et al. (2017) suggests that the recent changes in the job market and economy, and their accompanying effects on jobs in future, could radically disrupt systems of apprenticeship globally, and make them less relevant or irrelevant in the 21st century.

Degree versus Degree Apprenticeship

Degree and Higher Level Apprenticeships were introduced in 2014 aimed at increasing the apprenticeship graduates to over 3 million by 2020 to provide an alternative route to professionalism and creating equality and parity of opportunity for people choosing to undertake an undergraduate or postgraduate program through a way that is not conventional (Rowe et al., 2017; Irons, 2017). The aim of the study by Mulkeen et al. (2017) was to explore the opportunities and challenges of delivering and designing Degree and Higher Level Apprenticeships at levels 4 to 7 from a perspective of multi-stakeholder such as universities, employers, professional bodies, and organisations that provide independent training. Respondents in the study highlighted different factors that relate to the graduate opportunities of apprentices in comparison to other graduates. The elements were categorised into parity of opportunity and equality of esteem. Respondents saw the management of the perception of stakeholders as being crucial to the success of Degree and High-Level Apprenticeships in comparison to conventional degree programs (Mulkeen et al., 2017). This included managing the perceptions of the knowledge and skills of people that achieve their degrees through apprenticeship in comparison to those studying though the conventional routes, career opportunities, the abilities of different graduates, and the value that is placed on each qualification.

Traditional degree programs have already established a reputation with students, parents, and employers while apprenticeships are always associated with occupations that are vocational or require technical skills (Rowe et al., 2016; Bishop, and Hordern, 2017). Mulkeen et al. (2017) posit that in order to change perceptions, it will be necessary to educate stakeholders on the benefits of achieving qualifications through apprenticeships. Apart from parity of esteem, respondents of the study by Lambert (2016) highlighted the parity of opportunity for apprenticeship students in comparison to students who achieve degree through a conventional route.

Although parity of opportunity has no definition that is universally accepted, some of the themes that were most raised by study participants included parity while at university and parity of opportunity when they graduate. Baker (2018) also echoes Mulkeen et al. (2017) that the perceptions of employers regarding degree apprenticeships are negative. Employers also associate apprenticeships with ‘trades’ and manual labour. Marx et al. (2015) also suggested that apprenticeships in NHS and registrants who completed more conventional preregistration programs would be more likely to progress to roles that are more advanced in comparison to vocational learners.

Further, Ainley and Rainbird (2014) describes the split between apprenticeship and tradition learning as privileging of academic qualifications over the qualifications attained in workplace learning. The perception that apprenticeships appeal to people who have achieved lower levels of education also leads to confusion about the value of degree apprenticeships (Chan, 2013; Ainley, and Rainbird, 2014). Baker (2018) also suggested that there is poor understanding of apprenticeships be career advisors, employers, and potential apprentices, which contribute to negative perceptions about the value of apprenticeship. This negative perception is reinforced further by Ryan & Lorinc (2018), who note that the misconception that apprenticeships are ‘second class’ and that recognition of degree apprenticeships need to improve. That being said, if perception about degree apprenticeships change, degree apprenticeship graduates will be regarded as equally capable of taking up managerial roles.

Education level and management Roles

Proponents of promoting education levels and management roles view the approach as one of the most critical elements of employer-employee relations (Baugher et al., 2014; Belfield, 2010). As far as an employee is concerned, a promotion to a managerial role is not just a reward and expression of gratitude by the employer, but also an opportunity for career advancement and self-fulfilment, satisfying their need for success and accomplishment (Pillai et al., 2012; Gul et al., 2012). For this reason, it is vital to know what determines how a manager performs on the job. According to Muda (2014), how effectively managers perform cannot be predicted by the number of degrees they hold, the grades they receive in school or the formal programs of management education they attend. Academic achievement cannot be a reliable yardstick for measuring potential of people in management roles (Pinto, and Ramalheira, 2017). This is because managers do not learn what they need in managerial positions in formal education. Unless they acquire through experiencing the skills and knowledge that are crucial to their effectiveness, their careers will not advance up the organizational ladder.

Nguyen & Hansen (2016) state that even though all formal management education has the implicit objective to help managers learn from their experiences, most formal management education is miseducation because it distorts and arrests the capability of managerial aspirants to grow as they acquire knowledge. Therefore, first learners in the classroom are often not always good managers (Muda, 2014). On the contrary, Dike et al. (2015) assert that promotions to managerial positions are based on the abilities and efforts of individuals. Dike et al. (2015) add that managers are promoted based on their skills and initiatives according to the rations' point of view. The presumption is that individual qualities can be used to objectively measure people’s abilities (Truxillo et al., 2012; Danish, and Usman, 2010.). The person best suited for a managerial position is one whose attributes best suit the position. Organisations also support this perspective through processes of reward and appraisal, which offer incentives for additional education, training, and individual achievements. Although, organisations may prefer people with additional training to take up managerial roles, education levels does not determine how a manager performs on the job. Therefore, whether one achieved their qualifications through degree apprenticeship or traditional degree does not determine whether they would be a perfect fit for a managerial role.

Methodological Approach

This research into graduate preparedness for managerial role takes into account two prominent approaches, traditional university degree or apprenticeship route, to attainment of qualifications and attributes required to secure, maintain, and placing oneself in position for initial and new employment. Ideally, the concept of employability is largely driven by labour market in not only a given country but also global demands. For instance, as much as the United Kingdom (UK) can have stipulated standards measured within level of educations, skills, knowledge, experiences, and personal and collective potential and goals, the regional and global demand of labour and subsequent production and productivity plays a central role in preparedness of employees and potential employees. As such, in order to adequately address the research problems and answer the questions in a satisfactory manner, it demands being objective towards social perspective towards employments, including participation in knowledge and skills development as well as attitudes towards career development. At the same time, garnering the views of the employers on the concept of employees being employable.

Although the degree versus apprenticeship is a debate that has been long-running, higher education is still a popular option for many people despite the increasing tuition fees. The number of students pursuing higher education reached an all-time high across the UK in 2017, with 241 585 students accepted onto degree courses (Knowles, 2017). However, people’s attitudes about apprenticeships have also evolved as apprenticeships are now recognised by many people as equal and an alternative to university degree (Jackson, 2013; Rowe, 2018). It follows answering the questions on what employers consider as qualities and requirement for someone to be employable. As such, interpretivism research philosophy suit in capturing the concerns. Additionally, to deeply understanding the underlying issues between apprenticeship and traditionally degree approaches towards graduate employability, it is important to gain both employer and employee (graduate) perspectives. This is achievable through have a deep engaging interactions with the two segments. Thus, the use of open-ended interview will elicit information from the participants. However, as a sampling method, participants drawing randomly from both traditional degree and apprenticeship programs will be picked in addition to human resources representing the employers. Five participants from the three sectors will be questioned separately and then data analysed using thematic analysis tool.

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