National Apprenticeship Week: closing the skills gap

Tech leaders explain how apprenticeships add value to businesses

National Apprenticeship Week is an annual celebration that draws attention to the value and importance of apprenticeships. This year’s events are particularly significant following a turbulent year of the ‘Great Resignation’ and the well-documented skills shortage. With the UK government’s ‘Levelling Up’ plan revealed last week, building talent and plugging the skills gap is top of many organisations’ lists.

With this in mind, DiversityQ spoke to tech industry experts to understand the value of apprenticeships and how they can help businesses expand and strengthen their talent pools.

National Apprenticeship Week: the appeal of apprenticeships

It is widely accepted that apprenticeships are great for people looking to build skills – whether they are young people starting out in a career or older people looking to reskill – but the businesses that offer them can also reap the benefits.

“These programmes give the apprentice an understanding of what working in the industry would be like, and provide training in the skills required to be successful,” begins Gillian Mahon, Chief People and Places Officer at Totalmobile. “With the world increasingly relying on technology, we should be encouraging young people – and adults of any age, for that matter – to consider how an apprenticeship with a software company could benefit them.

“This week also encourages businesses to step up and offer apprenticeships if they don’t already. Not only do they help the person on the scheme, but they’re also a great way to tackle the recruitment challenges that we’re currently seeing in our industry. It can be difficult for people without experience to secure jobs in tech – sometimes simply because they don’t feel confident enough in their own ability to apply. Apprenticeships provide that stepping stone where the person learns the job while being paid to train, and the company has the chance to train a potential future employee. It’s a win-win situation.”

“Hiring new apprentices into the business is a win-win situation for everyone,” agrees Sadie Wilde, Leadership and Talent Development Partner at Node4. “The apprenticeship provides emerging talent the opportunity to learn new skills on the job, gain nationally-recognised qualifications and gain entry to a long term career with us. As a business, we have also benefited from a talent pool of enthusiastic, fresh-faced individuals who have become valuable members of the Node4 team. Our colleagues across the business also love getting involved in supporting the development of our new apprentices on our emerging talent programmes.”

Recruit and retain

Amidst the ‘Great Resignation’, retaining staff is just as important, if not more, than recruitment success. Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal, explains that businesses hiring apprentices need to “push ahead with their reskilling efforts to help defend against the ongoing talent crisis. Critically assessing the future demand for skills and understanding the patterns and obstacles that may affect workforce migration to new skill sets will enable HR teams to best utilise and progress their workforce, from apprentices to senior management, ensuring they stay one step ahead as the war for talent intensifies.”

He continues: “Finding and securing suitable candidates for apprenticeships will require HR teams to shift their hiring strategy – looking beyond the bullet points on a CV to evaluate potential over experience. It is fundamental that employers prioritise finding individuals who are willing to learn and adapt.

“After all, one of the many benefits of apprenticeship schemes is that organisations can tailor the training that prospective employees receive with a view of keeping them within the business after they complete their scheme. Significantly, 86% of employers surveyed by the Government Apprenticeship scheme said apprenticeships helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation.

“This means, by the time they qualify, the apprentices will be well versed in the company’s systems, technology and culture, allowing them to hit the ground running in a permanent role.”

Supplying the skills

It has been well-documented that many industries are experiencing a significant skills shortage. Apprenticeships provide a long-term solution as candidates are trained on the job, learning the skills and tools required whilst gaining experience to do the job unsupervised in the future.

A recent report found that over two-thirds (70%) of workers in the UK don’t feel equipped to learn the digital skills needed by businesses now, rising to four in five (80%) that don’t feel equipped for the future,” explains Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK

“However, there is also a serious labour problem occurring amongst young people in the UK. In fact, according to think tank’s Resolution Foundation, although unemployment amongst 18 – 24-year-olds has fallen to 9.8%, many of these workers are not in secure employment, including temporary contracts, zero-hours arrangements, agency work or variable hours. So, although there are plenty of young people in insecure jobs who would benefit from full-time employment and training, there is a disconnect between this group and the skills needed in the UK job market.”

“Apprenticeship schemes can be a great way of bringing promising individuals into the industry – giving them the tools, experience and practice needed to excel, and prove their return on investment,” Storrar adds.

“From an employee standpoint, showing them the roadmap for their job security and continued growth will change their focus from the uncertainty of the last year to productivity and career advancement,” concludes Jennifer Locklear, Chief People Officer at ConnectWise. “Investing in new talent now can yield rewards for decades to come.”

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