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Ben Rowland

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How apprenticeships can drive digital transformation in your organisation


Apprenticeships could bridge the digital skills gap and help drive transformation in your business. Don't miss out on this trick.

Digital transformation is a strategic imperative for many businesses today. According to research conducted by Deloitte in partnership with MIT, more than 70% of companies are transforming their products and services into digital businesses. And they are doing this for good reasons, positive and negative: 75% of Fortune’s Global 2000 are predicted to double their productivity as a result of digital transformation, meanwhile 40% of businesses will be displaced by digital disruption.

What is digital transformation? It is not only about creating applications and installing new systems. More fundamentally it is about updating products and services to become more digital in nature: more service-centric, agile, experimental and data-driven.

The key to digital transformation is developing the right skills and behaviours to drive the transformation of a business’s products and services, not just updating systems and technologies.

The sudden surge in demand for digitally skilled employees, for example in DevOps, user-experience design, mobile apps, short form agile content production and other forms of web security and infrastructure, has outstripped the supply of those skills dramatically.

The digital skills gap

The British Chambers of Commerce recently warned that more than 75% of businesses in Britain are facing a digital skills shortage. The same survey found that 84% of firms think digital and IT skills are more important to their business than they were two years ago. Hiring and developing digital talent is a very real and current challenge for UK plc.

Part of this shortage is the drop in number of students undertaking IT or digital skills courses at school. In a 2015-16 report, the Royal Society found that 54% of secondary schools in England did not offer computer science GCSEs despite the increasingly digital world. This has contributed to a skills gap that has increased by 8% over the last five years.

As a primarily male-centric industry, IT has struggled to balance the number of women working in and studying related subjects. To close the gap, firms have to find ways of making it more attractive to half the total employee pool. This will in turn improve output as it has been proven that diverse companies outperform non-diverse companies by 34%.

There is now an ‘alignment of planets’ that makes apprenticeships a particularly potent tool in a company’s arsenal for addressing the shortage of digital skills.

On top of that, there is a focus on hiring only highly trained experienced candidates leaving the younger generation without the opportunity to break into the industry. There seems to be an unconscious bias that if you aren’t already in the industry, or able to drag yourself into it by your own boot straps, then you’re not right for the industry.

Tech London Advocates “Diversity in Tech Manifesto” states, “Tech needs to fashion itself as a pioneer – bridging the skills gap that is holding the industry and economy back [by] opening up careers in tech to all, and providing apt and accessible digital education so that home-grown talent can lead [the] tech scene to global success.”

Suffice to say we think this is an approach that the winners of the 21st Century will adopt.

What is the solution?

The companies who are going to succeed in getting the skills they need to deliver the digital transformation they must achieve if they are to survive (let alone thrive) will be open minded, imaginative and action oriented.

This is where apprenticeships come in.

Apprenticeships are not new. Indeed apprenticeships in traditional IT occupations are some of the best established and most successful programmes propelling people from full time education into well paid careers.

But there is now an ‘alignment of planets’ that makes apprenticeships a particularly potent tool in a company’s arsenal for addressing the shortage of digital skills.

First, the Apprenticeship Levy is making firms spend money on apprenticeship training. It represents the biggest single shake-up in vocational and professional training in the last 25 years. It forces organisations with annual paybills of more than £3m to spend 0.5% of that paybill on apprenticeship training.

The stage is now set for some practical and rapid impact responses from UK employers to the digital skills gap.

Second, who can ‘be’ an apprentice has now changed. In short: anyone can. This means you can train geography grads to be business analysts and chemists to be cyber security professionals.

Third, a slew of new fully approved, fully “levy-fundable” digital programmes have become available in the last 12 months. So in addition to IT Technician, IT Engineer, Software Developer and Digital Marketer, you can now use apprenticeship programmes in Data Analyst, Business Analyst, Cyber Security, Software Tester and – for the first time – degree level IT apprenticeship programmes.

Making the most of it...

These three developments have kick started a significant response in the supplier community, with both new market entrants and incumbents radically expanding and upgrading their programmes.

The stage is now set for some practical and rapid impact responses from UK employers to the digital skills gap. It is up to them to now take up that opportunity and make the most of it.


One Response

  1. I have just begun my career
    I have just begun my career as a digital marketing apprentice having enrolled on an 18 month Level 3 course. My apprenticeship is funded through The Juice Academy, a non profit organisation based in Manchester, and I have been employed by a telecommunications start-up company based in Lancashire.

    I have to say everything here is completely true. When I applied for the programme with Juice, they reiterated the huge digital skills gap that exists in the United Kingdom. I’m 19 now, having just finished my A-Levels, and I can safely say I never acknowledged just how important acquiring digital skills was during school. I don’t think the governing body for education is emphasising just how important being ICT literate is. I think whichever career path a young person decides to go down, the opportunity to utilize technology is endless, and I don’t think it is yet realised.

    Whether you go down a trade path, an office-based path, a free-writing path, or even something such as athletics, you can expand your profile and network so much through technology. Communication set ups, expanding social media profiles for yourself and your business, online interaction, digital publications, online advertisement, email marketing etc. it’s genuinely endless. My view would be to invest in the digital skills of young people, encourage courses, ensure ICT GCSE’s are compulsory in schools etc- something the DfE have responsibility in doing.

    In reference to employment of young people to fulfil the digital skills gap in companies, I think the government must ensure more young people are coming away IT literate first. For that you need to make them experienced and educated. So many companies these days must be looking for employees to enhance their digital profiles and regimes, and the amount of employment for young people the government could generate from more funding and education of it is massive. I applied for numerous jobs before being hired by CircleLoop and the programme, I can tell you now very single application was seeking a computer literate person!

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Ben Rowland


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