Why become an IT apprentice instead of a university student?

With many facing harsher exam grading and higher tuition fees an apprenticeship has never looked so attractive.

University tuition fees are at an all-time high of £9,000 maximum a year, so for many students university is no longer a viable career option for them. However, university is not the only way to achieve a fulfilling career in the IT industry.

Lesley Cowley, CEO of Nominet, said for those that do decide to look into the alternatives to university, there are many options:  “Apprentice schemes are a good starting point as they can offer students the opportunity to gain some on-the-job skills alongside college studies, meaning that both the business and the individual can grow their own future talent.”

Cowley said in the IT industry for example, many are put off by the misconception that you must have an ICT education or qualification to work in the IT industry: “In fact, there are multiple routes into IT careers; from college and university courses to workplace apprenticeships. For example, our post A-level apprentice scheme is currently in its third year and gives school leavers the opportunity to apply for roles within our technical infrastructure, software development and business intelligence teams.

“So for those that are worried their results won’t see them through into the career of choice - fear not – because many of the most successful business people are proof that you don’t necessarily need a university degree to achieve your full potential. I would encourage those that don’t see University as a viable option, for whatever reason, to consider signing up to an apprenticeship scheme.”

Life as an apprentice

Charlotte McArdle, QA Apprentice said once she has completed her apprenticeship, her employer will keep her on as a permanent member of staff: “Without my apprenticeship I don’t think I would have been able to achieve this so quickly.

“Should I move on from my current job, I now know that I have the qualifications and experience necessary to stand out from the crowd.”

Ben Pike, director of QA Apprenticeships, said: “Young people considering their options after getting their results should make sure they explore every route available to them. Drifting into more study and full-time education could see them left without a clear career path and shouldering a large debt.”

This summer over 100 undergraduates are undergoing a paid apprenticeship scheme at BAE Systems. Each intern is being paid £4,200 for a three month placement in addition to receiving a recognised certificate from Excellence, Achievement & Learning (EAL).

Over 12 weeks with the company the students will have the chance to work at one of BAE’s sites,  in areas ranging from engineering to business development, and project management to procurement.

Over 100 apprentices have been taken on in total with 39 in the cyber security arm of the firm, called Detica, in Guildford, Gloucester and London. Another 25 interns were allocated to the military air and information business in Warton and 13 have research and technology placements at sites in Chelmsford and Filton. Other areas to take on interns include vehicles, naval ships, electronic systems and maritime services.

Funded through the Government’s ‘Employer Ownership of Skills’ the scheme also offers the interns the possibility of employment with BAE Systems on graduation.

Ayesha Godigamuwe, early careers advisor at BAE Systems said:  “During a period of enormous youth unemployment, our scheme provides undergraduates with an invaluable opportunity to actually get paid to learn and develop core skills, as well as ensuring that BAE Systems competes for the very best talent in the market.

“This internship forms an important pipeline for the next generation of young people, and we hope it will challenge the perception of what industry looks and feels like in the UK, as well as demonstrating the exciting career opportunities which lie ahead.”

The scheme is run in partnership with Semta. Sarah Sillars, CEO of Semta said: “We hope to create many more such schemes – paid internships – with great British companies that are crying out for young, able and ambitious men and women to join them.

“With more than 80,000 engineers due to retire in the next few years – and order books filling – we have our work cut out to fill the skills gap. This type of initiative can be a big boon to British manufacturing.”

A guide to get employers hiring

The National Skills Academy for IT has launched a new guide for employers to demystify the process of hiring apprentices. The guide is free and available online to help employers understand the process the first time around.

Patrick Beasley, apprenticeships project director at the National Skills Academy for IT, said: “IT apprenticeships give employers the chance to mould young people to their specific needs; to give them both technical and soft skills; and to recruit loyal and affordable new staff with a real desire to succeed.”

The National Skills Academy has also teamed up with training provider, NITP, and BT to create 135 new apprenticeships.

Beasley added: “Many employers aren’t aware that IT apprenticeships exist or think it’ll be too complex to hire one. We’re already starting to change that perception through our partnership with BT and NITP, and we aim to continue via this new guide.”

Peter Marples, director at NITP, said: “With high university tuition fees and graduate unemployment, many school leavers are seeking out apprenticeships as they get their results this summer. In fact, there are currently 17 applications for every IT apprentice vacancy, making them among the most popular with young people. This gives companies that need skilled technology staff a real opportunity to bring fresh energy and talent on board.”


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