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In the past few decades, the pace of technological change has entered overdrive. The ways in which we work, study, play, shop and communicate are being revolutionised every few years, with no indication of a slowdown any time soon.

Keeping up with technology has always been a priority for business: how to take advantage of the efficiencies it brings, protect against potential cyber threats and stay up to date with the demands of customers? Recently, the break-neck rate of change, along with the rise of highly specialised technology businesses sucking in talent, has left many businesses uncertain of how to stay current. This doesn’t just affect small businesses: massive global banks and insurance companies are having to dedicate increasing brainpower to ensuring that their tech systems are up to date, and that they’ve got the right people in place to maintain them.

According to research by employer body the Tech Partnership, 134,000 new tech specialists are needed every year in the UK, a demand that currently far outweighs supply. This means that businesses of all types will need to get more creative in their search for tech talent. In particular, they will need to look beyond the graduate pool – for businesses from every field and sector, tech apprenticeships are an increasingly attractive way of staying up to date and developing exactly the skills and attitudes they need.

Digitisation – touching all aspects of business

Retail provides an example of an industry that is digitising fast, particularly as a result of changing customer attitudes to online shopping and payment. This requires extensive teams, both to design effective user interfaces, and to ensure that technology integrates with sales, supply and logistics systems. Brands increasingly need to maintain presence across social media platforms and provide a website experience that seamlessly functions on desktop and mobile, and often in multiple languages.

Tech giant Fujitsu is running a Tech Industry Gold accredited apprenticeship scheme. “It makes a great deal of sense for us,” says Catherine Irvine, Security Operations Business Manager at Fujitsu. “It means we can spot top quality candidates, offer them a really worthwhile programme, and end up with highly technically competent people who understand our business and live our values.”

With cyber-crime frequently in the news, from high profile security breaches like those suffered by Sony and Ashley Madison, to more anecdotal accounts of ransomware which can lock businesses down, it is clear that tech security skills are needed everywhere. The energy and thirst for knowledge possessed by apprentices can make them ideal candidates in the war against malicious cyber-attacks.

CGI has taken on a number of tech apprentices who will specialise in cyber security. “Each of our tech apprentices has brought great value to the organisation,” says Verner Parke, Managing Security Consultant at the company. “They are energetic, enthusiastic and hard-working, so they make a real contribution to our work. As an employer, we are also pleased to be helping young people kick-start their careers.”

The benefits of apprentices are not confined to larger businesses: companies of all sizes can benefit. As David Keeling, COO of Cambridge-based mobile payments company Bango points out, “With the continuing shortage of digital skills, apprenticeships let us grow our own talent and develop the exact expertise we need. The Tech Industry Gold apprenticeships we offer have helped us progress high quality, motivated and productive employees.”

A wide range of talent

As the range of companies increasing their digital skillset has expanded, the battle for experienced and graduate tech talent has heated up. The number of roles being created every day substantially exceeds the predicted numbers of tech-specialist graduates. Forty percent of companies looking to recruit tech specialists report finding it hard to fill vacancies, and 85 percent of these cite skills shortages as the reason.

Tech apprenticeships, however, provide access to a vast range of available talent. Hiring apprentices direct from school or college provides businesses with access to a generation of ‘digital natives’ who have grown up with technology playing a major part in their lives. They will have a working knowledge of digital trends and business tools like Instagram; but their skills-sets can be honed in line with your business’ needs.

There are roles in every area of a business that a tech apprentice can fill to boost the organisation’s digital offering: specialist apprenticeships are available in software development, database development, cyber security, technical support, network engineering and digital marketing.

Some businesses, however, are hesitant to put themselves forward to train apprentices: Tech Partnership research found that there are now 14 applicants for every tech apprenticeship in the UK, compared to nine for every non-tech apprenticeship. Organisations may be concerned that an apprenticeship scheme will be bureaucratic and time consuming, or perhaps that their apprentice will take too long to become productive. They may simply not know about the level of support a good training provider can provide. By searching out training providers which hold the Tech Industry Gold accreditation, businesses can be reassured that the training will be top notch, and their apprentice will quickly be adding value. The accreditation can only be earned by providers who can satisfy the employers of the Tech Partnership that they can offer support on everything from recruitment and selection to day-to-day apprentice management.

The digitisation of UK businesses is here to stay, and businesses of all sizes must be comfortable accepting the mantle of ‘digital businesses’. Tech apprenticeship schemes allow companies to develop their own digital talent and ensure they stay competitive and at the forefront of technology trends.

By Margret Sambell, Head of Strategy at The Tech Partnership