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New figures highlight the growing popularity of digital apprenticeships

  • Dates: 27 March, 2018
  • Author: Paul Freeman

We look at how aligning your apprenticeship and career development strategies can deliver significant benefits for your digital transformation initiatives

The importance of effective digital transformation

Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword – it involves a radical rethinking of how an organisation uses technology in pursuit of new revenue streams or new business models.

Rather than focusing on any single IT project, digital transformation describes a series of projects that, together, change every facet of the organisation, from back office operations to customer interactions.

What we are seeing are organisations re-evaluating their business models to ensure they establish a competitive advantage or address the threats posed by other organisations who are transforming themselves successfully (research suggest that 40% of businesses will be displaced by digital disruption).

The speed of change is a critical factor. For example the widespread availability of “pay as you go” cloud computing can now enable a technology-aware start-up to create a global operation within 72 hours.

However, successful digital transformation requires a range of skills to be present within the organisation. And the reality is that the UK faces severe shortages in several relevant areas including big data, web and software development, the Internet of Things, app development, e-commerce and cyber security.

This is where apprenticeships can add real value.

How can apprenticeships help?

There has been a growing recognition that organisations cannot solely rely on buying in the requisite IT talent – it’s either not available in sufficient numbers or the salary demands are prohibitive.

The introduction of the apprenticeship levy has resulted in increasing numbers of organisations looking inwardly in the first instance to build their own digital capabilities in core development areas. The attraction is that apprentices can bring energy, enthusiasm for technology and an open mind, coupled with an ability to challenge the way in which organisations do things.

The launch of the apprenticeship standards allows organisations to specialise in developing capabilities that are required to undertake digital transformation initiatives. Examples of how these standards can deliver skills that will be of value to such initiatives include:

  • IS business analysts – identifying new opportunities, evaluating the possible IT solutions and defining the features required.
  • Software developers - building and testing the code used in the development of apps for websites and mobile devices.
  • Infrastructure technician and network engineer – ensuring the ongoing operation and availability of key IT systems upon which the business is increasingly dependent.
  • Cyber security technologists – protecting critical IT systems against hacking attacks and other online threats.
  • Digital marketer – using a variety of online and social media platforms in innovative ways in order to drive customer acquisition, engagement and retention.

Allied to all of these skills is the key requirement of agility - being able to deliver solutions in a timely and effective manner in order to exploit new and emerging opportunities.

Aligning strategies

Apprenticeships can bring a number of benefits to companies – we’ve already touched upon their energy and enthusiasm. Another significant advantage is an improvement in employee retention rates. A recent study concluded that 91% of apprentices remained employed or continued their education six months after the apprenticeship was completed.

However, in order to get the most out of your apprenticeship programme, it’s important to consider your overall apprenticeship strategy, particularly given the range and variety of possible apprenticeships that are now available at all levels. For example, does your programme take account of the areas of the business where apprentices can make the greatest contribution to its success? And, furthermore, what skills will be required to ensure this success?

Moving forward, therefore, it should be a priority to align the apprenticeship strategy with your organisation’s career development strategy in order to identify and deliver a range of agreed digital capabilities. This can be achieved using a combination of apprenticeship levy funding and core commercial training provision.

Paul Freeman, Director of Education & Talent at GK Apprenticeships, offers the following guidance for ensuring this alignment is effective:

  1. If recruiting ensure candidate engagement is optimised from the beginning. Be proud of who you are as an organisation and share your values and mission for candidates to buy into..
  2. Understand your total costs of the levy and training budget before making any decisions. Prioritise according to business need.
  3. Understand what external budget is being spent on (on a BAU perspective) and how can these be converted to apprenticeship schemes.
  4. Be really clear on what skills are required in the business as part of your future-proofing campaign. This will require a lot of painful stakeholder engagement and performance consultation to get to the required answers.
  5. Create long term relationships with providers and supply chain where people want to understand the business
  6. Provide opportunities for apprentices to work on current business issues and put learning into practice
  7. Build programmes that align specifically to your organisational requirements – don’t accept ‘off-the-shelf’ programmes that will ‘sort of fit’
  8. Build against future skills, not legacy training delivery
  9. Don’t mention the ‘A’ word (Apprenticeships!). The best examples we have seen are those that use the levy to fund ‘Management Development Programmes’ or ‘Project Management Academy’ launches.
  10. Start with people who want to do it, build champions and success

Paul Freeman

Director of Education & Talent