Get Stuck into Something Big

Teale Cunningham was part of the first cohort of graduates on our Professional Economist Degree Apprenticeship Scheme and his dissertation has been chosen for inclusion in the Kent Economics Degree Apprentice Research Journal.

Cunningham’s research into alternative methods of estimating the monetary, price equivalent, impact of non-tariff trade barriers and their incorporation into Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) was selected from a list recommended by the Independent Assessors who had sight of the year’s Dissertations. His work at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes extensive use of CGE tools and that professional effort will be helped significantly by Teale’s contribution. We asked his about his experience working on his dissertation and about the programme as a whole.

What skills did you gain that you’ll carry with you for life?

The most significant challenge from degree apprenticeship schemes come from the responsibility of managing your own journey through the programme. The apprentice is primarily responsible for ensuring they emerge as a well-rounded and employable individual by the end of their programme. This involves managing their time between work, study and outside life as well as seeking opportunities to continually progress their academic and professional knowledge, skills and experience.

From my apprenticeship experience, I will take what I have learnt about time-management, self-discipline and self-motivation with me for life.

Do you have friends who took a more conventional degree?

I think there will always be a place for more conventional degrees. They suit people who are less interested in immediately trying to apply concepts to business and societal questions but want to have uninterrupted time and space to explore their discipline. I have friends who took a more conventional degree – we’ve all appreciated sharing approaches to tasks like studying and time management as well as utilising our diverse perspectives to have richer debates on a range of topics. Our experiences since leaving school have differed in some ways. The pace of life for apprentices is faster and more structured. I think the financial freedom from earning a salary means apprentices tend be more independent quicker. Anecdotally, by the time people have completed their degrees, apprentices tend to be more focused in their career ambitions as they have had time to understand and hone their unique skillset that they bring to organisations. In terms of employability, there are definitely benefits of building up transferrable skills (such as report writing, project management, leadership and presenting) over four years.

Could you explain how you feel the apprenticeship scheme has worked out for you financially?

The apprenticeship schemes are financially beneficial for students. Tuition, and all costs associated with studying towards my degree, were fully covered by my employer. This means I accrued no debt over my four-year degree, I also earned a salary. The market for degree apprenticeships is becoming increasingly competitive and starting salaries are reflecting this. Now, as a graduated apprentice, I take home my full wage post tax without any student debt (and student debt interest!) deductions. And equally important, since graduating I reflected on the things, I was able to do with a full-time salary over the four-year course -like moving out of my parents’ home and going on holidays.

Would you recommend this type of study?

It’s really good to see the diversification of options for students leaving school. It means young people can better tailor the next part of the development to their preferences, improving social, academic and professional outcomes. For many, studying the theoretical basis for their discipline while practicing its application in the professional environment will suit their learning style and career ambitions. If you are someone who wants to get stuck into something bigger and start contributing to society straight out of school then I definitely recommend degree apprenticeships.

Is there anything about the process of writing your dissertation that you want to share?

As an apprentice you are not only surrounded by experience and expertise in your discipline from your university’s academics but also from professionals at your work place. You benefit from understanding how experts are trying to challenge and strengthen the discipline’s theoretical grounding as well as how to use it in approaching the big questions of our time. This makes apprentices well placed to identify which innovations in research can be applied to which topical issues to create novel, interesting and relevant dissertations. I really enjoyed working on something that could expand the evidence base and tools of my work area in a way resource doesn’t allow in my day-to-day work life. The academic programme’s practical skills (including reporting writing and using specialist software for econometric analysis) as well as experience in the workplace of managing analytical projects really benefitted the process of researching and writing my dissertation.

You can read Teale Cunningham’s dissertation, ‘The (non-) Price We Pay for Non-Tariff Measures: A practical and novel method to incorporate empirical estimates of the price effect of technical non-tariff measures into a computable general equilibrium model’, along with the best work from his cohort in the Kent Economics Degree Apprentice Research Journal; Issue 1, 2023.