Susan Mullerworth, group HR manager at MCSA, explains why apprenticeships are now far better regarded and becoming an excellent route to employment.

Many technology orientated UK businesses are increasingly concerned about the low numbers of young individuals that possess the right IT skill sets coming into the sector. Combine this with the challenge of balancing an aging workforce, means that tackling future skill shortages is now a key focus. Employers urgently need to implement succession planning, training and introduce an ongoing apprenticeship scheme to ensure that skills are correctly transferred - from mature - to younger employees.

With the UK being a high skills economy, we will need more people capable of supporting and managing complex IT systems, as well as programmers and developers. Apprenticeships are increasingly recognised as a highly positive, proven way to develop young people into being productive, skilled and professional members of staff - providing the workplace with enthusiasm, talent and fresh ideas.

Apprenticeship programmes give young people the opportunity to combine work and study, and a path leading to a rewarding career. Apprenticeship programmes also offer an alternative to university’s, classroom-focussed route into employment. An apprenticeship in the IT sector promises a career in an attractive industry – as well as removing the burden of student debt.

Apprenticeships typically take between 1 to 4 years to complete - depending on their level and our apprenticeship schemes are currently offered at Level 3 and above. At this level we believe applicants have demonstrated a capability, a willingness, clear focus and commitment to pursue the career path in IT. Since 2013, all apprentices that have graduated from our 13 month programmes have gone on to gain roles in the IT industry, some working in complex and challenging sectors such as banking.

It’s also worth noting that an apprenticeship is not just about technical skills - the mixed learning approach will allow individuals to also gain the confidence and credibility required to thrive in modern, high tech environments.

Looking outside the apprenticeship route, I also believe that with changes in working patterns and the rise in ‘State Pension Age’ it’s forecast that adults will change career direction two to three times. They may need to re-skill after enforced career changes or simply possess a desire for fresh challenges. Considering this, I believe there is scope for further ongoing personal development programmes for older individuals. It’s never too late to study and learn and I’m an advocate of CPD, Continuing Professional Development.

The Apprenticeship Levy – a blessing or curse?

The fact that the Apprenticeship Levy is imposing upward investment in training and is generating awareness of this topic, via the media – means it’s a positive move. Businesses now need clarity from the Government on how funds will be allocated and spent. This is a major change in policy so it’s important that the Government builds monitoring rules and a provision for changes - should the scheme need adjustment.

Since starting our investment programme in apprentices we have been impressed with the value that they bring to our business - in both short and longer term. In general, any scheme which helps encourage this type of investment in other businesses should bring benefits, as long as it is supported correctly by both the Government and the companies who may feel imposed upon. Time will tell if this helps apprenticeships or not in the future.

Top 5 tips for successful apprenticeship schemes

  1. The Company Scheme
Ensure that the scheme has the backing of your board and you have clarity about how the structure of your company can effectively support the apprentices’ job roles.

2. The Apprentice

Be careful in your selection and recruitment of candidates - ensuring that they are well aligned to your working environment. You must also provide pastoral support and supervision - always be patient and keep young minds busy

3. The training provider

Have a good relationship with your provider and ensure that their training corresponds to the needs of your organisation. Insist that they provide information support and assistance, and that you are comfortable with the key personnel provided by them.

4. The Local Community

Spread the word - ensure that your company is known in the local community as a keen advocate for apprenticeships. Contact local schools/colleges promoting your apprenticeship scheme and support to the local community.

5. CPD (Continuing Professional Development)

Look beyond the apprenticeships and create a CPD plan which is regularly reviewed with the student. The plan must match their career ambitions and professional projections, so include additional certifications, and qualifications.