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Becky Norman


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Degree apprenticeships remain a hidden gem for skills development

IBM's Jenny Taylor MBE talks about tackling social mobility, boosting skills development and the misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships

National Apprenticeships Week (NAW) plays an important role in raising awareness of apprenticeships and the many benefits they can offer to businesses, graduates, career changers and those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

To explore NAW’s 2022 theme of ‘Building the Future’, TrainingZone spoke with Jenny Taylor MBE, Leader of IBM’s Early Professional Programmes, about skills gaps, social mobility and the future of apprenticeships.

For the last 18 years, Taylor has been at the helm of IBM’s UK early professional programmes, which includes interns, apprentices and graduates. She received an MBE as a result of a decade’s work in the apprenticeships field across the digital sector, and in influencing government policy. 

We’re hearing a lot in the news about the UK’s tech skills shortage, but what does this shortage mean for businesses in reality? 

Our industry faces a serious challenge in recruiting sufficient, high-quality employees. There’s competition to hire talent not only in the tech sector but across all industries. The recent pandemic has heightened this scarcity as digital skills are in even greater demand as a result of changes in working patterns. 

Apprenticeships are vital for helping plug the digital skills gap

In fact, according to the Institute for the Future, 85% of tech jobs required by 2030 have not yet been invented, with three in five organisations stating they lack agility because of skills shortfalls, subsequently spending £6.6bn in 2020 to address the shortage.

How important are apprenticeships to helping close this skills gap?

Apprenticeships are vital for helping plug the digital skills gap. The apprenticeships are structured as 20% off-the-job and 80% on-the-job training models, so apprentices are learning real, hands-on skills from their first day which is underpinned by classroom training.

They provide the opportunity for apprentices to rapidly kickstart their digital skills building, and, from day one, the enthusiasm, dedication and business results from apprentices is incredible. I am blown away by the achievements of our own apprentices; they deliver high levels of productivity and a solid return on investment year-on-year, even with off-the-job training.

The UK government has recently detailed in its Levelling Up whitepaper that by 2030 the number of people completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. What role do apprenticeships play in this and, more generally, in supporting social mobility across the UK?

Our experience at IBM and recent research have demonstrated that apprenticeships can play a very positive role in supporting social mobility across the UK. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) have published a report which shows that 40% of their degree apprentices are the first generation in their family to attend university. Additionally, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data, 36% of all MMU apprentices are from the most deprived areas.

Apprenticeships exist at several different levels, which further supports social mobility. For example, here at IBM we run a Level 2 employability programme and have been able to transition students from the programme into permanent employment on Levels 3 and 4 apprenticeships.

There is still a myth out there that claims they are ‘second class’ options for school leavers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth

Are there any myths about apprenticeships that still need to be debunked?

Apprenticeships are rarely understood, even today. There is still a myth out there that claims they are ‘second class’ options for school leavers, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. When we discuss the opportunity with students, they are astonished – join a world-renowned employer, earn a salary, receive training and, if they choose the degree apprenticeship, complete a university course with no debt.

There is also a perception that apprenticeships are only labour-based roles, even though most large UK corporate companies offer them and it’s possible to qualify in subjects including Law, Accountancy and Data Science.

So, there is still a lot of work to be done. We must inform teachers, parents and prospective students across the UK and debunk age-old myths about apprenticeships.

For organisations looking to leverage apprenticeships to fill skills gaps, what guidance can you share?

If organisations are considering using apprenticeships to combat the digital skills gap, they should do it! Hiring bright, inspired early professionals from diverse backgrounds will bring the company new and existing ideas and increased productivity.

We are very proud to have created a flexible environment at IBM whereby our apprentices can join us from Level 3 to 6, and progress to higher levels, thereby creating a ladder of opportunity. Our apprentices continue to amaze me with their level contribution; when they discover what they can achieve, it makes them even more passionate. They are IBM’s future and, for any ambitious employer, the key to ‘Building the Future’.

Degree apprenticeships are still a hidden gem, so it would be great to see more universities embrace them

There is a lot of support available for employers who are considering hiring apprentices, so don’t be afraid of reaching out and talking to those of us who are already committed to this journey.

Within the next decade, what do you hope we will have achieved in the fight to close the UK’s skills gaps?

I would hope that a great many more people are choosing to use apprenticeships at all levels as a means for starting a career and continuously upskilling. I would also like to see outreach continued and expanded to ensure people from all backgrounds are aware of the opportunities available to them.

Degree apprenticeships are still a hidden gem, so it would be great to see more universities embrace them as they attempt to shift the balance between ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ degrees for school leavers.

The Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education is now fully committed to moving ahead and making apprenticeships work better than before, allowing young people to take full advantage of the unique status degrees have in the labour market. So, let’s hope this is a real game changer in the fight to close the UK’s skills gap.

Interested in this topic? Read Breaking the apprenticeship taboo: Why reskilling begins at 40.

One Response

  1. It’s great that there are
    It’s great that there are such student programs that, with the help of scholarships, will help to educate many students.

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Becky Norman

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