CIOs should use IT apprenticeships to tackle digital skills shortages

One of the things Labour leader Ed Miliband remembered to say in his party conference speech this week was to criticise the IT industry.

He singled out IT employers for bringing in a growing number of overseas workers, while the number of apprentices entering the sector fell. “You must provide apprenticeships for the next generation,” he said. And he’s right.

Labour wants to force companies to take on one apprentice for every non-EU worker they bring in – and to make apprenticeships a condition of being a supplier to government. Putting aside the practicalities of such a policy, the intent is very welcome.

For too long now, Computer Weekly has had to highlight the massive dichotomy in UK IT – every employer says there is a huge skills shortage, yet training budgets are down and the number of young people entering the IT profession is falling.

Figures out this week show that IT graduates are nearly twice as likely as average to be unemployed six months after leaving university – and that is despite IT graduates being the best paid.

And yet, research suggests that 120,000 new recruits are needed every year into UK IT. Some estimates suggest the UK IT sector could create as many as a million new jobs by 2020. Who is going to fill them?

The Coalition government has actively encouraged the growth of apprenticeships. Some IT companies have signed up to promote apprenticeships, and the most enthusiastic of them have put together a set of standards to ensure quality training for apprentices in key technology and digital roles.

All the basics are in place – it just needs more employers to sign up.

So far, it’s been IT suppliers taking the lead in digital apprenticeships – but surely it is time for CIOs to step up too. Look around your IT team – how many young people are there? Is there a focus on bringing in new blood and developing them – or do you always look for a finished product every time?

We need a change in culture in IT departments to promote training and development, and to be able to bring in young people and help them contribute to corporate IT. Miliband was right to point a finger at IT – it is time IT employers stepped up and turned more to graduates and apprentices to fill the jobs for today and tomorrow.