This is a guest blog from Stephen Bushell from Mercato Solutions who talks about apprenticeships and opportunities for young people starting out in the technology sector.
The Midlands is one of the fastest growing regions for the technology sector. Birmingham alone houses over 6,000 tech firms, employing over 38,000 people and delivering £768 million to the regional economy. To combat the risk of a skills crisis, apprenticeships should be high on the agenda of technology businesses when it comes to up-skilling the workforce and providing opportunities.
At Mercato we have developed ways to incorporate apprenticeships into our business framework, and more and more companies are following suit. Businesses are discovering that not only do apprenticeships provide young people with an opportunity to gain essential skills and get their foot in the door, but they can also bring a lot to the companies who offer to support them.
So why take on apprentices?
It has been said many times before, but it is worth noting that there is a considerable gap between the skills youngsters are developing in IT lessons at school and those required to be employed in the sector. The move from education to work is also a huge jump for young people starting out in any career and this is where apprenticeships can help to bridge that inevitable gap between education and the workplace.
Creating apprenticeship opportunities gives young people a chance to build confidence and prove their competencies in the workplace - whilst also developing a valuable skill-set. Companies that provide opportunities to young people can up-skill a local community and assist in driving business and innovation forward - if managed in the right way.
In my experience, finding the right people with the right skill set can be a challenge - not to mention that taking someone on, based on an interview alone, provides no real certainty as to whether they are the right fit for the company's culture, or how their skills will contribute to the overall corporate vision. In this way, employing new staff will always carry an element of risk in any business.
I find that employing individuals through apprenticeship schemes significantly reduces the degree of risk involved, since you not only have your own knowledge that they work well, but you are also able to develop and nurture their skills in a direction suited to your particular company. We've found our apprentices have developed skills that are of real value to the business.
Protecting the future of the UK tech scene
There is a growing appetite for young apprentices within the tech industry -particularly as the Government recently announced plans to provide financial support to anyone taking on a role within the sector.
We find that our apprentices are genuinely excited and keen to work with the technology we build and use, as well as being surprised that there are so many opportunities for training and support across the industry. Supported by our training partner, Birmingham Metropolitan College, our apprentices learn about various areas of technology, from servers to networking. We are also using our own software platform, KnowledgeKube, as part of the training process and apprentices are learning hands-on how to develop software applications without writing a single line of code.
I think this helps to combat the misconception, which may begin in the classroom, that to work in technology you have to be a 'techie' and need to have had some training in software development. That's why our sector needs to work harder at building awareness of the vast range of opportunities available in our industry, helping young people to realise that a career in technology is within their grasp.
With the UK tech sector thriving, it's critical that we drive innovation for growth and don't let a shortage of skills hold us back. Apprentices offer us a new way to nurture talent. This, I hope, will lead to a generation of highly skilled employees that will deliver significant business benefits and develop the technology landscape in Birmingham and beyond.