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Apprenticeships could stop potential employees falling through the net, says Bellrock

The chief technology officer of facilities management company Bellrock explains why apprenticeships should be used to stop potential IT workers moving to other industries

Apprenticeships could be the key to ensuring more potential IT staff stay in the industry rather than finding other careers, according to Bellrock.

The facilities management firm runs A-level alternative apprenticeships in association with IT apprenticeship training firm Digital Native. Bellrock has found giving young people the chance to explore different types of IT career helps ensure they stay in the IT industry.

“Their experience of the work environment is zero and school doesn’t really prepare you for work,” said the chief technology officer of Bellrock property and facilities management, Chris Weston, adding that the scheme was made to give students skills that could be translated into a formal qualification.

Bellrock brings students in for apprenticeships around the age of 17 to learn on-the-job skills during full-time employment, while taking some days out to progress with a more formal learning environment with Digital Native.

Weston highlighted that this mixture teaches the apprentices what a workplace environment is like, how they should behave and how to specialise in an IT discipline, such as service management, programming and business intelligence (BI) and how IT affects the business.

“A lot of kids are pushed into university. It’s far more useful for students who aren’t necessarily academically inclined, but are practical, to complete an apprenticeship. They tend to learn in a different way,” he said.

According to Weston, official education does not always show the range of jobs available in IT, which leads to industry drop-off and deters girls from pursuing an IT career.

“Girls are really let down by education because it focuses on IT as being a programming expertise. That’s not to say programming is not what girls want to do, but a lot of girls aren’t attracted by it,” he said.

“When you look at people across IT who are business analysts or do service management, you don’t need to know how to program – you don’t even need to be interested in programming to do a good job in IT. Students don’t see this and have no idea these things are available, so we lose them to other industries.”

Apprentices at Bellrock can try out different IT roles around the company so they get a better idea of what role suits them and how they want to take their career forward.

“So many students have no idea of what a career in IT might be because they’re not taught that in school. The old IT qualifications are interesting and useful, but who knows what a business analyst, project manager or an enterprise architect does? It doesn’t show the wide range of students and the different types of job they can do,” said Weston.

As part of the scheme, Digital Native accepts applications and pairs apprentices with suitable firms based on what they want to achieve and what they are most interested in.

Bellrock has taken on two apprentices so far and hopes they will stay with the company for a few years once their training is complete.

Weston explained these apprenticeships are helping to tackle the skills gap, not just by training young people to fill roles, but by trying not to dip into the same talent pool as everyone else.

“We’re not helping that situation as an employer if we’re all looking for people with two or three-years’ experience, so it’s really important from a sustainability point of view to have a mixed approach to employment,” said Weston.

Weston explained that in a way, apprenticeships are a “two-way street”, with young people gaining the experience from firms and firms having the advantage of home-grown employees.

“We let so many people through the net, especially girls, which results in a fairly unhealthy industry that is male centric. It’s all about two or three-years’ experience and nobody is bringing anybody on,” said Weston.

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This theory is sound. But first, we might want to ask whether we actually need folks who might 'fall through the net'. What if these folks aren't smart or skilled enough to assist the IT department? Perhaps our responsibility is to carefully evaluate the skills and aptitudes of potential workers and then ensure they are places where they can do the most good.
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