IT sector needs standardised apprenticeships and revamped ICT GCSE

Ann Brown, HR vice president at Capgemini UK discusses changes to the IT curriculum and the need for standardisation of IT apprenticeships

It’s a sobering thought that some of those starting university in 2012 will finish their degrees with more than £40,000 worth of debt as top-up fees are introduced across some of Britain’s top institutions.

What can we in the IT industry do about this? We need to offer an alternative for young people to encourage the next generation of IT professionals into the sector. In my view, apprenticeships offer this opportunity and there is great appetite among our industry colleagues to embrace apprenticeship schemes to ensure the pipeline of talent continues to deliver the talent of tomorrow.

We recently held a roundtable to discuss the issue and the high level of attendance from senior executives from the likes of KPMG, Logica, IBM, Accenture, BBC, Atos, Steria, PWC, the British Computer Society (BCS), and many others demonstrates the importance of the issue to the industry.

During the roundtable we learned that the desire among our colleagues to collaborate, learn from each other on best practice and to find common ground on apprenticeships is strong.

The challenge now is to reach an agreement with the National Apprentices Service (NAS) and our sector colleagues on an industry standard for apprenticeships in terms of entry routes and career structure. At present, there is no national standard for hiring apprentices and we at Capgemini want to change that.

Imagine a 16-year-old who has just left school and is interested in a career in IT. Where do you turn for guidance? With very little knowledge of routes into the industry, let alone knowing which companies to apply to, what chance does that young person have to find the right route into employment?

Our challenge is to provide clearer routes from schools into IT apprenticeships so the supply of talent is not restricted to graduates. The way things stand, there is no way of identifying the demand for apprenticeships and matching that demand to suppliers.

The good news is the government has recognised the need to restructure the GCSE IT curriculum to place more emphasis on designing software and writing computer programmes, which will make the course more business focused. We are working with the government and industry partners to help pilot the revised curriculum which will teach pupils to think of IT in business terms. This will make them more aware of the opportunities out there and more prepared for a role in the IT sector once they leave school.

We at Capgemini already offer a Higher Apprenticeship Programme for 18-year-olds. Our first 24 Higher Apprentices have joined us this year to start with hands on work experience while studying for a degree in Computing & IT Practice from the Open University.

This is an extension of the apprenticeship scheme we established in 2008 and is the first time we have sought an alternative to IT graduates, which have traditionally been the mainstay of IT recruitment not only of our company, but the IT industry as a whole. We expect to have a new generation of qualified developers and engineers who have been through the scheme working on some of our key clients.

The apprenticeship programme is just one channel and if we are to provide clarity to potential employers we need to agree five or six entry routes ratified as an industry standard so everyone can recruit from the same designated channels.

This will ideally lead to a charter with signatures from E-Skills, the National Apprenticeships Service (NAS) and industry partners. But this is no quick fix. Our roundtable has shown there is a broad understanding of the issues around apprenticeships and also the opportunity this presents IT companies.

We hope this is another step towards reaching the industry vision of a signed IT Services Charter in 2012 supporting the recruitment and development of apprentices in our sector.