Digital Britain Needs You

BT has announced plans to train another 3,000 apprentices  on top of 3,500 engineers, including apprentices, hired last year.

The announcement included an update on BT’s plans for new and upgraded training centres to train Openreach staff (announced in March last year) when the Secretary of state for Work and Pensions opened the second of the new centres, in Peterborough. The first, near Bradford, became operation before Christmas. Yarnfield (near Stoke-on-Trent) was an upgrade and expansion of an existing centre. The other new centres are Bolton, Crawley, Exeter, Livingston, Newport, Nursling (Southampton), Romford (Essex), Thornaby (Tees-side) and a centre in Northern Ireland. Three of these are due to open over the next three months. By March BT will have doubled the learning days it deliver annually to 160,000.

It expects, however, to have no capacity available to sell to others.

BT has yet to fully recover from the 50% cut in both infrastructure investment and preventive maintenance budgets in 2008. A side effect of PIA access has been a need to train thousands of engineers to, for example, inspect poles, ducts and cabling that have not been checked in years and to retrain thousands of others to handle GFast, let alone Fibre to the Premises: Openreach also announced 11 new locations where it will be building new FTTP networks during 2019 – including Bury, Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Croydon, Greater Glasgow region, Harrow, Merton, Redbridge, Richmond upon Thames, Sutton Coldfield, and Salford. This brings the total number of towns, cities and boroughs that Openreach will be building in to 25. Those already announced are: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Exeter, The Wirral, Coventry, Nottingham, Belfast, Swansea.

Successful applicants in England and Wales who complete 12 months at Openreach will receive a BTEC Level 2 Diploma in professional Competence for IT & Telecoms Professionals. Scottish joiners will receive a Diploma for IT and Telecommunications Professionals at SCQF Level. BT is looking for partners to help it get the programme agreed as a level 2 Apprenticeships so that it can claim its levy back!

The expansion of the BT in-house engineering workforce over the year ahead, net of “wastage” (e.g. retirement) will be about 1,600. It will remain heavily dependent on external contractors.

Meanwhile the estimated shortfall of those competent to help build in contractors, and those of its competitors, to build full fibre networks is about 15,000.

To that should be added the shortage of those competent to construct hybrid networks (cable and wireless) networks to serve multiple dwelling units and smart building complexes (from office block through to airports, business parks, football stadiums and shopping malls to Universities science parks).

The Digital Policy Alliance meeting on 21st January to address the shortage of Digital  Infrastructure Construction Skills to which I referred in my previous blog  was fully booked, action packed and off-the-record. By the end February I expect the participants to ready for a formal announcement of the actions that were agreed and their implementation plans. In the meantime I have been asked not to steal their thunder.

The plans cover most, but not yet all of the actions identified on November 26th. The main exception is co-operation on talent acquisition programmes. For example – how do we get the message to physically fit youngsters who balk at the idea of £50 – 60,000 of debt and no job in prospect, but are willing to get out of bed early in the morning, whatever the weather, to train for their chosen sport and also willing and able to get a driving license (if they do not already have one) that they can be earning £40,000 within the year. More-over they can be on the bottom rung of a hybrid career path (via degree-linked apprenticeships and other training programmes) towards building, maintaining and exploiting the digital infrastructure of the future. And they are likely to be paid, at each stage of that career rather more than those who began with £50 – 60,000 of debt.

That message will not go down well with schools dependent on the funding that goes with 6th formers. It will not go down well with those Universities who are not already making the transition to working with employers on degree-linked apprenticeship. But is a reflection of the changes of status that go with the 4th Industrial Revolution

Please contact the Digital Policy Alliance  if you would like to join the group to co-operate on talent acquisition programmes (from teenagers, through armed forces veterans and the under-employed to those returning to work force) and the organisation of local skills partnerships and training facilities to meet you own needs.

Also make contact if you would like details of what was agreed on the 21st January and the implementation plans as soon as these are agreed for announcement.

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