GUEST BLOG: Why Apprenticeships offer a lifeline to the UK’s tech industry

This contributed post by David Allison, founder and managing director of GetMyFirstJob, discusses the potential for apprenticeships to fill the UK’s tech skills gap. 

Despite a challenging economic climate, the UK’s diverse digital industry has thrived over the past five years. According to a recent report by Tech City UK, digital industries contributed £87bn to the UK economy in 2015 and the sector now employs more than 1.46 million people- approximately 330,000 in London alone. Digital technological companies are thus proving pivotal to the UK economy.

As new technologies transition from invention to mainstream application, there is a constant need to reassess skills, training and recruitment in order to meet changing demands. With demand now outstripping supply in terms of available talent in the digital sector, the future of the technological industry now hangs in the balance.

But with uncertainty on how Brexit will impact upon foreign hiring from within the EU, the need to establish an effective pipeline of UK individuals with skills in, for instance, coding and data science, is even more profound.

According to research by Tech Partnership, 40% of British technological companies are struggling to source suitable talent to drive innovation. Analysis of ONS and Tech Partnership data for instance, reveals that the UK will require another 134,000 technological specialists each year and that if these requirements cannot be met, they are likely to cost the UK economy £63 billion a year.

Status Quo Not An Option

As recent research by the FDM group has highlighted, there is a mismatch between what is taught within university or school-based courses and what businesses within the technological sector actually require. As such, the training that young people receive is often devoid of commercial reality.

Tackling these skill shortages requires a nationwide, forward thinking, recruitment plan that covers all bases. This necessitates looking beyond the graduate pool and towards the creation and development of wider digital training programmes.

In terms of solutions, an increase in digital apprenticeships should be high on the agenda.

As a recent survey by GetMyFirstJob revealed apprentices add significant value to 90% of businesses that utilise them. Reasons for this include a positive contribution to long term growth and a rise in productivity.

Even more crucial is that by training apprentices whilst on the job, employers can tailor a candidate’s learning, skills and knowledge towards their businesses’ specific needs. This avoids any mismatch between theoretical knowledge and what skills companies actually require candidates to have.

Unfortunately, however, digital apprentices are not yet being utilised to their full advantage.

Despite the government’s plans to introduce the apprenticeship levy in 2017 and the push for more apprenticeships in the UK, only 3% of all UK apprenticeships are based within the digital sector. Moreover, many businesses are proving unwilling to engage with the new levy system out of fear that it risks damaging existing training schemes and forces a quantity over quality approach.

The Solution is out there

But employers must not let the levy disconcert them. If companies carefully select the right training provider, the levy shouldn’t cause any problems.  This is because the right provider will ensure that a candidate is recruited for ‘best fit’ rather than ticking certain boxes during the administrative process.  They will advise, guide and even challenge your requirements to ensure that they deliver the skills and knowledge that fit with the organisation’s values.

We assist over 260,000 candidates, 150 training providers and some of the UK’s best known employers in finding the talent they need to help their businesses grow at GetMyFirstJob. From this, we have witnessed first-hand the incredible apprentice-employer achievements that occur when training and recruitment is carried out effectively and in tandem. For this reason alone, the potential of apprenticeships in harnessing and developing a valuable digital workforce to sustain the UK’s future economy must not be underestimated.