The benefit of apprenticeships for closing the technology skills gap

Here are some ways that apprentices can boost your business' performance and help close the technology skills gap

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Between 2017 and 2018, there were 814,800 people participating in an apprenticeship in England, however this number reflects a slump since the introduction of the controversial apprenticeship levy, and it's yet to rebound.  

Despite this, in some areas in particular, apprenticeships can bring plenty of benefits to business. Survey collected by our sister title, CIO UK, found that in just two years, the proportion of UK CIOs whose organisations offered apprenticeship schemes increased from 61 percent to 72 percent between 2017 and 2019.  

trainees

IT departments in particular can stand to gain a lot from running apprenticeships in areas affected by the well-documented skills gap. This is a lack of skills in certain areas of technology such as AI and data science and is predicted to be costing organisations £6.3 billion

In England, 83 percent of all apprenticeship starts were in four subject areas: Business, Administration and Law; Health, Public Services and Care; Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies and Retail and Commercial Enterprise according to data from the UK government. 

But what benefits can apprentices bring to businesses? 

Increase retention rate

Research indicates that those brought on as trainees were more likely to stay on after their training period has ended. This suggests employees respond positively to workplaces that take them on at an early stage in their career and help to nurture their goals and provide them with useful experience.

National Apprenticeship service data has shown that 80% of companies that have apprenticeship schemes report higher retention rates.

However, this will only be the case if the trainee is provided a supportive work environment and a role that is well rounded and that meets their expectations.

Increased retention rates have the effect of reducing the cost of recruitment and replacement associated with a high staff turnover.

Develop talent in-house and plug a skills gap

Instead of always seeking to bring in external talent, keep an eye on the future when hiring apprentices. Is there an area of the business that is sparsely populated, or where you feel people will soon be moving on? Training up new talent in-house to fill future vacancies or beef up certain departments can be a lot more cost effective than looking elsewhere. 

In organisations struggling with recruiting talent, offering apprenticeships can be one way of increasing the pool of applicants and give them the skills they need. One area where this is particularly pertinent is technology, where much of the workforce is unable to meet the skills demand. In fact, it's forecast that as many as 1.8 million IT jobs could be unfilled by 2022.

Attract a diversity of people

Recruiting for certain positions can lead to a disproportionate number of people from similar backgrounds or demographics. Only considering people who have been to university, or who have held management positions in a certain area can lead to the exclusion of people who would perform better in the role, but don’t have the paper-based credentials to back it up.

Bringing on apprentices who haven’t got a university degree is an opportunity to judge candidates on their potential rather than their experience. This offers a great opportunity to hire outside the box.

Diversity has been proven time and again to increase innovation and productivity in a company. Diverse companies were found to produce 19 percent more revenue by one study. 

Free up time for senior staff

Bringing on more junior staff means that senior staff can delegate more mundane, repetitive and low-level tasks to apprentices, and thus free up time and energy for more high-level and challenging pursuits. 

Not only is this likely to increase productivity, it can also have an effect on the enthusiasm of more senior staff and mean that they can devote themselves to more interesting tasks, which in turn increases innovation.

This can have an effect on the company’s bottom line - some estimates put the ROI on apprentices as high as 150-300 percent.

Separate research carried out for the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that each apprentice brings a gain in productivity of more than £10,000 per year for their employer on average.

Create a more balanced workforce

Depending on the industry, your business may have an abundance of university educated staff members. However, people who haven’t been to university can bring a wealth of skills and attributes to the team. Something unrelated to academia which has been shown to be strongly related to success is the psychological trait known as 'grit', which roughly refers to tenacity, resilience, perseverance and the desire to succeed.

Often, the most entrepreneurial and those with high levels of social ability may not be suited to university. This, coupled with the fact that many employers bemoan the fact that university graduates enter the workforce woefully under-prepared and inexperienced, is more than enough reason to consider opening an apprenticeship programme. While it’s common to be blinded by the number of degrees someone has, there are plenty of qualities that can’t be cultivated within the hallowed halls of a red brick.

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