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IBM hails apprenticeship degrees as step towards injecting talent into businesses

Large firms such as IBM, John Lewis and Lloyds Banking Group gathered to discuss the benefits of young IT talent gaining degrees on the job

Large firms including John Lewis, Lloyds and IBM have spoken out about alternative routes into careers in IT such as apprenticeships and apprenticeship degrees.

By offering opportunities for young people to learn at the same time as working, organisations have access to a new cohort of workers, as well as the opportunity to bring people up with the firm’s culture.

“We found ourselves in a position a few years ago where we needed to bring new blood into the organisation,” said Gordon Kent, head of emerging talent at Lloyds.

However, he pointed out there were gaps in education where younger graduates weren’t prepared for work in larger IT firms as they did not have workplace skills.

Kent said the industry needed to indoctrinate younger workers to help them understand what it means to work in companies such as Lloyds.

Exciting digital careers

In 2014, the UK government introduced computer science into the school curriculum as a mandatory subject to be taught from the ages of five to 16.

While it is good to expose younger children to the industry, there is a lack of knowledge of alternative routes into careers, and graduates are still not prepared for the workplace.

“People are pushed towards the UCAS route in schools – the pipeline is quite weak,” said Jenny Taylor, foundation manager at IBM.

Taylor also argued that, although some IT skills are now taught in schools, the technology industry is still not seen as an attractive career choice.

“We need to address the perception of the IT industry in schools. The digital careers of the future are really exciting,” she said.

On-the-job training

Bob Clift, head of high education at employer network the Tech Partnership, claimed alternative routes such as apprenticeships aren’t a “silver bullet” for the current skills gap, but are definitely “an answer”.

However, these routes are often overlooked because there are not enough role models to prove technology is a valid path to take.

“Young people feel that they need a degree to underpin their career,” said Clift.

Representatives from IBM, John Lewis and Lloyds agreed that employers and the government should be working towards targeting young people and parents to ensure all routes into technology careers are known. The stigma around not having a traditional degree also needs to be addressed.

“There’s an attitude that is still not fully embracing of the apprenticeship concept,” said Kent.

Another alternative is an apprenticeship degree. Students studying apprenticeship degrees learn at the same time as having a full-time job, which is paid at apprenticeship wage. The students will spend time in the workplace and time at university attending lectures.

“It’s actually difficult to get graduate attention,” said Gayna Hart, CEO from small health systems provider Quicksilva.

Quicksilva focuses on making sure employees match the culture and the lifestyle of the business. However, due to its rural location, the firm found it difficult to attract graduates from nearby universities.

“We found graduates had already decided where they were going,” said Hart.

The firm paired with local universities with a similar mission to offer students the chance to learn and work at the same time.

Drumming up interest in apprenticeship-based degrees

The panel agreed that by making children more aware of how IT can help solve real world problems they might be more receptive to taking a job in the industry.

Alaistair Wood, practice lead for technical design and development at John Lewis, said until more degree apprenticeship schemes take off, it is difficult to demonstrate to undergraduates the value of the programmes, so they are unlikely to choose them as a route into the tech industry.

“It will take quite a while for the apprentices to come through our scheme and then be our leaders, so we have to recognise that’s a practical challenge.”

Wood said more needs to be done to inform undergraduates that the qualifications received at the end of an apprenticeship degree are as good as studying a degree on its own.

“Once you get to the end of that, everyone’s equal. It is all about your ability, your capability and your desire to move to different places in the organisation,” he said.

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