Apprenticeships – helping secure the workforce of the future

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Employers are spending more than £4.4 billion a year on the skills shortage[1] (Open University Business Barometer 2019), predominantly through recruitment activities, but buying skills and not building them is a short-term approach, which ultimately won’t pay dividends. It is crucial that organisations take a more sustainable approach using training to address their skills gaps.

Investing in work-based training, which allows workers to earn while they learn, will help organisations to bridge the divide between the skills available in the labour market and the skills they need, allowing them to focus on stability and growth for the future.

By 2022, 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people will be needed to satisfy future skill requirements, and within 20 years, 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills. This impacts the potential of organisations to innovate at the pace of change driven by emerging technologies disrupting nearly every industry – an existential issue.

Whilst steps are being taken in the right direction to close the digital skills gap, there is still a long way to go. It is IBM’s view that organisations have an opportunity to address the skills issue by adopting alternative recruitment strategies.

Apprenticeships are a particularly effective recruitment scheme. On the job learning through schemes like Apprenticeships is one of the ways companies are trying to bridge the skills gap and equip the future work force with the right skills in a world of digital innovation but recent research suggests that awareness needs be increased around apprenticeships.

Recent research conducted by One Poll and commissioned by IBM of 189 youngsters in further education, found that 47 per cent aren’t aware of the option to pursue a degree apprenticeship – completing a degree and working simultaneously – instead of going to university.

And just one in 10 could confidently name companies which could offer them apprenticeship opportunities to further their knowledge while earning a salary. It can be hard to know what you want to do when you’re young, or even when you’re older your passions can change, and it might mean you want to change careers altogether. Young people either fail to receive the correct information on the routes available to them or are presented with so much that it can become overwhelming.

An Apprenticeship is a great way of young people gaining the relevant qualifications that equip them for the jobs of the future – namely, ‘new collar jobs. These are the roles being created as a result of the digitalisation of business. Such transformation brings with it a demand for new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting. A new-collar approach requires employers to engage with candidates hoping to follow less traditional career paths, with a focus on hiring those who may have the right types of experience, skills and aptitudes obtained through vocational training rather than level of education. These new-collar jobs will likely become more prevalent in the future as technological progress accelerates and university costs continue to rise.

They provide an opportunity for companies to grow their business with employees who are motivated and keen to learn as much as possible. Companies and educational partners can create bespoke training to not only support the business they have now but create the business they aspire to have. Apprenticeships are an investment for the future, and a savvy one when considering the economic realities of upskilling. With the right training, apprentices are able to perform real roles within major client accounts. In fact, the IBM cohort of apprentices have proved to be loyal, keen, enthusiastic employees with high retention rates, and they are a highly sought-after resource.

It is not hard to see why, when apprenticeship schemes have been seen to boost business performance and productivity. According to 2018 government statistics, firms with established apprenticeship schemes agreed that productivity had improved in their workplace by 78 per cent, in fact, 96% of employers with apprentices have experienced at least one benefit from taking on apprentices, and most can count at least 8 benefits and 86% of employers said that apprentices helped to develop relevant skills for the organisation, and to fill the skills gap[2]. These statistics underscore the tremendous asset that Apprentices are to any business from the outset as they can contribute value whilst being trained.

It is vital therefore to raise the awareness of apprenticeships not only with students but also parents as they are often the ones who help influence the chosen path that their children decide to pursue.

On this point, the One Poll survey commissioned by IBM of 1000 parents of children currently in education also found nearly four in 10 wouldn’t be completely supportive if their offspring opted for an apprenticeship over university. In fact, 57 per cent of mums and dads weren’t aware of the option of a degree apprenticeship, and seven in 10 confessed they can’t confidently name as little as five companies that would offer apprenticeships. More than a quarter of parents don’t think you’ll be paid as much without a degree.

As technological progress accelerates and university costs continue to rise, it is time to banish the apprenticeship stigma, and present the workforce of tomorrow with more than one option for their future. Here at IBM, our apprenticeship programme has proven a key part in building the next generation of technical specialists and leaders in the business. As our programme enters its tenth year, we are proud to continue welcoming fresh talent into IBM and securing our own workforce of the future.

This week, the UK is celebrating National Apprenticeship Week – a week-long celebration of the extremely valuable contribution apprenticeships can make to individuals, companies and society. From traditional trade apprentices, to new forms of training like Degree Apprentices, this week highlights why having diverse forms of training available to school leavers (and those looking to reskill or re-enter the workforce) is absolutely essential to the UK’s skill gap and securing the new collar workforce of the future.

IBM’s Apprentices

IBM’s apprentice programme launched in the UK in 2010 as a core part of our effort to build the next generation of technical specialists and leaders. Since then, it has evolved apace – surpassing even our own optimistic goals of becoming a wide-ranging technical and business training scheme across all parts of the UK business. From humble beginnings, we are proud to now have one of the industry’s most sophisticated apprenticeship programmes.

We offer a wide range of apprenticeship pathways. We are an Employer-Provider for Junior Management Consultants, IT Technical Sales and Software Testers. We also have apprentices on Software Developer and Infrastructure Technician pathways, as well as HR and Digital Marketing standards. We also have apprentices studying degree level apprenticeships for Digital & Technology Solutions, Cyber Security and Chartered Business Management pathways across six different universities.

It’s one of the ways we get fresh talent into the business first – and far from being a special class of newcomers, they are fully fledged members of our overall Early Professionals’

What’s Next?

We’re looking forward to seeing the Apprenticeship and Degree Apprenticeship scheme expand and flourish – taking in talented new IBMers from a diverse range of educational, cultural and social backgrounds.

This week is so important to us because we will be working alongside the UK government, our partners in education, in the technology industry and business to open people’s eyes to the potential of apprenticeships. University is not right for everyone, neither is going straight into a job. An apprenticeship offers a viable middle path – and the success of our programme, our apprentices and those in other companies throughout the country shows that path is an extremely good option for many of today’s most talented school leavers.

We will be going out around the country with our partners and colleagues to speak about apprentices. We will be on the radio, in the press and shouting from the rooftops. This is indeed a week to celebrate – and we hope you will join us in hailing not just those already on apprentice schemes with IBM, but others who will soon join this movement.
For more information on IBM’s open opportunities for school leavers and apprentices please follow:

[1] Open University Business Barometer 2019
[2] Government report on Achieving the Benefits of Apprenticeships Oct 2018

Leader of IBM UK's Early Professional Programmes

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