Industry standards are critical to supporting digital apprenticeships

Written by Graham Hunter on 30 May 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Graham Hunter makes the apprenticeship case for businesses of all sizes.

The UK is facing an ever-widening digital skills gap, which has the potential to put the country’s economic development at risk. It is reported that 11.5m people still lack basic digital skills despite the demand for IT workers increasing year on year.

With 90% of workplaces now needing staff to have basic digital skills, it is vital that people are trained with industry-appropriate capabilities to meet the rising demand for skilled workers. However, upskilling employees will take time and requires a concerted collaboration between educational institutions, government and industry.

In recent years, the UK government has attempted to address this issue and has implemented an apprenticeship levy that looks to develop vocational skills, including digital, and improve the quality of training for those taking a non-academic path to a career.

Apprenticeships, and the Apprenticeship Levy, are essential to developing the future IT industry workforce. They enable more people to enter the industry and are a credible alternative to university, providing opportunities to earn and learn, developing necessary skills that can immediately be used in the workplace.

However, with recent news that large corporations are taking advantage of the apprenticeship levy by rebranding low-skill jobs as apprenticeships, it appears that organisations are taking advantage of the monetary value associated with the initiative as opposed to actually using it to address the current skills gap.

The IT industry must avoid a similar situation and ensure that the government is investing money into digital apprenticeship programmes that strive to deliver quality apprentices that can provide a meaningful contribution to the workforce.

If digital apprentices are trained to standards that are widely accepted by the industry, employers can be sure that their recruits will enter their companies with the skills needed to make an immediate impact.

Typically, large organisations have had a disproportionate amount of influence in defining the skills that apprentices learn, often locking them into particular technologies and ways of working which do not actually provide industry-wide or transferable skills.

This means that apprentices may not finish the schemes with a knowledge that is applicable to a broad range of companies within the industry, but are instead left at square one, needing to develop their skills further in order to move company or role.

By prioritising the needs of large corporations, the backbone of the economy misses out; the SMEs that represent 99% of all businesses in the country. As opposed to backing loosely-based standards that see the creation of more apprenticeships with less value, including SMEs in defining what apprentices should be means a balanced view and overall standard is obtained.

To ensure this works, SMEs must also have a better understanding of how apprenticeships can work for them. Despite the government’s efforts to make apprenticeships accessible to everyone, there is still confusion about the levy.

Key criticisms include the lack of clarity around who can apply for funds from the levy, with smaller businesses not aware of its parameters or their eligibility.

Because of this, almost three-quarters of SMEs still remain to be convinced about the merits of taking on an apprentice, despite the fact that three in four SMEs report increased productivity due to apprentices and 96% report at least one benefit from hiring an apprentice.

It is therefore crucial that digital apprenticeships are of a sufficient quality that all employers can benefit.

To achieve this, industry and government must work together to develop apprenticeships based on benchmarked standards, such as vendor-neutral certifications, which encompass a variety of factors within the industry to develop training that is as relevant as possible, to assure that each and every apprentice gains the skills needed to be put into use by any employer in the industry.

If digital apprentices are trained to standards that are widely accepted by the industry, employers can be sure that their recruits will enter their companies with the skills needed to make an immediate impact.

At a time when the UK is in the midst of an IT skills crisis, it is vital that the skills learnt by apprentices are shaped to ensure they are relevant to any industry and are not used to fill low-calibre roles.

With an increasing number of large corporations taking advantage of government initiatives, now it is more vital than even that the industry joins together to ensure apprenticeships are giving people the skills they need to succeed.

Only by investing in industry-relevant, in-demand digital skills, will the UK future-proof its workforce and economy.

 

About the author

Graham Hunter is VP EMEA at IT industry body CompTIA

 

 
 

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