Published on in Responsible Business

This week marks the 10th anniversary of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) – a time to celebrate everything apprentices have done for businesses over the years.

But more than just a celebration, this is a call to action – never has there been a greater need to arm young people with the kind of technical ability an apprenticeship provides.

The UK is facing a growing skills shortage. The Hays Global Skills Index 2016 found the UK’s skills shortage had worsened for the fifth consecutive year, and that many university degrees were failing to provide the technical expertise companies were looking for.

Something has to give, and apprenticeships may just hold the answer.

The University of Winchester’s Director of Employee Partnerships, Stella McKnight, certainly seems to think so.

“Apprenticeships are a brilliant way to study for a degree while working in a professional environment, delivering the best of both worlds,” she told us. “(Apprentices) are developing the high-level skills and knowledge they need to further their careers and become digital specialists who are in tune with the future needs of their industry.”

So why are apprentices so important to our industry in particular?

Nurturing home-grown talent to close the skills gap

It’s no secret that the tech sector benefits from some fantastic overseas talent. But despite government promises to the contrary, some believe Brexit could make it more challenging to recruit from those European countries that have served our industry so well.

Home-grown talent is therefore going to become more critical to closing our skills gap than ever, as Fujitsu CEO Lucy Dimes explains:

“It’s well-established that the UK as a whole is facing a STEM skills gap, which if left unaddressed will damage our future economic prospects.

“Apprenticeships provide companies with enthusiastic candidates, who in turn gain vital technical skills and commercial awareness that prepare them for successful careers in the STEM sector.”

And if the prospect of helping to close the technology skills gap isn’t enough, the positive impact of apprentices on individual firms is equally clear:

“Technology companies in particular benefit from the input of young people,” Lucy said. “The new ideas and knowledge they bring as digital natives are vital for continuing innovation.

“We have found some of our best talent through apprenticeships, and former apprentices now hold senior positions in the company.”

Lucy also believes apprentices could help solve the long-standing gender imbalance in the tech sector, suggesting they’re “a crucial way to encourage young women to enter (technology) careers.”

Providing opportunities for young people

All of this is extremely positive, but let’s not forget who NAW 2017 is really about: the apprentices.

We caught up with Fujitsu apprentice Callum Kershaw to see how he’s benefited from joining the scheme and why he chose this route in the first place.

“It’s the ideal path for gaining work experience along with my degree,” he said. “There are very few job opportunities for people my age (in my home town). I knew taking an apprenticeship and moving away from home was how I was going to become successful within the IT industry after studying at college.”

But it’s the quantity and variety of exposure you get across the business that Callum finds most useful.

“(The apprenticeship) allows me to rotate around the business every 9 to 12 months,” he said. “It has given me numerous opportunities within a short time, but my most valuable moment so far has to be meeting the Prince of Wales!

“I’m looking forward to exploring the further opportunities my Fujitsu apprenticeship will bring,” he added.

Add to this the fact that apprentices – unlike academic students – get paid to train rather than ending up with a mountain of debt, and it’s easy to see why an increasing number of young people are opting to kick-start their career this way.

It’s time to embrace apprenticeships

As I said at the start of this article, this isn’t just about highlighting the value of apprentices (although there is plenty to celebrate there).

We have a growing problem: a lack of technical skills compounded by increasing uncertainty over where we’re going to find them in future.

Apprentices may not be the cure-all remedy, but they can certainly go a long way to helping close that gap while providing young people with a bright and brilliant future.

As Lucy Dimes put it when she urged every company to consider establishing an apprenticeship scheme:

“The benefits for both the organisation and the economy more broadly are exceptional.”

Check out our apprenticeships page for lots more insight and information about our scheme

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