Can apprenticeships remedy fall in IT GCSE and A-level student numbers?

As youth unemployment continues to rise - and with university tuition fees set to soar next year - a growing numbers of students and employers are opting for IT apprenticeships.

As the number of young people not in employment, education or training continues to rise - and with university tuition fees set to soar next year - a growing numbers of students and employers are opting for IT apprenticeships over academia.

The number of students gaining IT-related qualifications continues to decline. This year's exam results show the number of students gaining ICT GCSE qualifications fell by 23% compared to 2010 from 61,022 to 47,128.

However, the number of students gaining mathematics GCSE rose by 1.3% since last year from 762,792 to 772,944. This year's GCSE results also show an increase in the number of students taking separate sciences. The entry for physics was up 16%, chemistry 16%, and biology 14.2%.

This year's A-level results also showed a continued decline in the number of students gaining IT-related qualifications. The number of students taking IT courses has fallen by 49% since 2006 - down to 15,962 from 20,441 five years ago.

The fall in IT-related GSCE and A-level qualifications adds to increased youth unemployment. According to the latest government statistics, the number of 16-24-year-olds not in employment, education or training (NEET) rose by 12% since last year in the second quarter of 2011 to 979,000 from 872,000 - equating to 16.2% of young people.

Charity Landmark Training is working to address the rising number of NEETs. Landmark provides training and apprenticeship schemes for 16-18-year-olds. The company introduced IT skills training into its programme last year in response to demand from applicants and employers.

The programme also includes administration training to provide young people the skills to manage the cloud software provider's CRM systems.

Lisa O'Sullivan, acting CEO at Landmark Training, said there has been an increase in young people with high-level qualifications applying for apprenticeships as an alternative to the traditional education path.

"It's been a lot easier to recruit young people in a shorter space of time this year. The young people are out there and don't have a lot of alternative options. There's a lack of employment offers and they're not attracted to an academic route," she said.

The traditional academic route is being shunned by young IT professionals. Dujon Walsham is a 23-year-old IT consultant who has secured a range of IT certifications, including CompTIA A+, Cisco Certified Network Associate, Linux+, and Microsoft Certified Professional.

"I made the right decision to study industry certifications instead of going to university. I've no doubt there's a lot of value in university study, but in my personal opinion CompTIA A+ is far more valuable than an A-level, or even a degree for that matter, particularly in terms of actually landing a job," said Walsham.

Some employers are beginning to favour apprentices over graduates. Computer repair company D&J Henry says its business has grown five-fold after hiring apprentices.

By taking on apprentices, the Coventry-based firm has grown from 15 employees to 74 over an 18-month period. The company previously struggled to hire graduates for engineering roles.

More on IT apprenticeships:

How to become an apprentice

Sky launched training academy to plug future skills gap

Capgemini launches software development apprenticeships to secure future

IBM launches apprenticeship scheme for school leavers

BT recruits apprentices for IT services division

Visa launches IT apprenticeship scheme

Co-operative Group IT apprenticeships as part of £9m academy

British Gas launches IT apprenticehip scheme for school leavers

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