Why apprentices are key to keeping London at the forefront of world technology

Personally I have been struck by the current discussion around digital skills, particularly the lack of support for training in these skills at a time when they are so highly sought after.

There has been a lot of focus on how to close the skills gap and it seems that bridging this gap and the influx of capital are the big challenges that lay ahead if London is going to try and cement its place as one of the leading worldwide technology hubs.

This month the Chancellor made some headline grabbing budget announcements, but the one that interested me most in my role of MD of a UK based SME Technology business was the clear support he gave to putting apprenticeships in place as a viable alternative to a University led career.

People will have had mixed experiences with apprentices and graduates, but for me there is a distinct difference between the two. Graduates have worked hard for 3 or 4 years and sometimes feel they deserve something, unfortunately in the eyes of most employers all a graduate has done is demonstrated your ability to apply yourself and the hard work starts when you enter the workplace.

This is where the attitude of someone putting themselves through an apprenticeship scheme differs. They are fresher, less defensive and don’t come with any pre-determined views of what the workplace should be like. I’m being a generalist and there are obviously exceptions, but we are talking about supporting 3 million apprentices into work in the next 5 years, we have to take a broad approach.

The phrase a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out’ has been used in a number of ways over the last few weeks and apprentice schemes are exactly that, they encourage the market to train and nurture talent with hands on experience. Experience is the single most valuable thing I look for when I’m interviewing someone of any age. My experience of apprenticeships over the last decade has been limited, 8 years ago I employed the first of three apprentices over a three year period and had a 66 per cent success rate. Their work rate was excellent but the big challenge as I see it is now the need to encourage more students to take this route into work, particularly in the technology sector.

Any way I’ve put my money where my mouth is, I’ve just employed three more apprentices via the London based Tech City Stars program. Mr Osborne that’s only another 2,999,997 we need to recruit by 2020.

My main worry is that most of these apprentices don’t currently come into the technology industry. A large portion of current apprenticeship are offered in the legal, business, health and public service sectors. Only 11,200 apprentices came into the Tech Sector in the 9 months to April compared to 105,500 into the business and legal sector. So how can we change this?

I spend some time contributing to the Skills, Talent and Migration Group at TechUK who recently published a White Paper entitled ‘We’re just not doing enough – Working together to meet the digital skills challenge’ – click here to read the report.

TechUK’s paper talks in detail about the need for government to lead the charge to encourage young students up to the age of 16 and beyond to be inspired to join one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and UK economy. It looks at how we can inspire teachers and students and asks how we can equip them with the best tools to teach. How we offer credible career paths for girls and boys? How do we encourage industry to play a bigger role? All questions that don’t have a simple answer.

The National College for Digital Skills will become the newest tertiary education body when it launches in 2016 and the goal is to help try and fill the skills gap and offer courses that inspire people and teach actual skills required in the workplace. Currently there is a big gap in the number of courses available outside University for the 16-21 age group that teach digital and tech skills. The university syllabuses are also very slow to change and don’t really give a good induction into the skills required in 2015 to succeed in the workplace.

Hopefully this can change in the next few years with this and other similar initiatives. I’ll keep you posted how my 3 apprentices get on and hopefully I can inspire more of you to get involved. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to share experiences.

Matthew McGrory, Managing Director, Carrenza

Image source: Shutterstock/Goodluz