What are the benefits of taking on IT apprentices?

With over two million apprenticeships starting in the UK since 2010, more IT companies are starting to offer their own schemes. Jade Burke finds out how beneficial they are and how it can help students break into the IT industry…

Apprenticeships are starting to cause a buzz in the IT industry. With political parties talking up schemes in the run up to the general election, and large tech companies such as Microsoft having their own ones in place, the future is bright for young people. According to Gov.co.uk, since 2010 there have been over two million apprenticeships in England, and now Prime Minister David Cameron wants more. Speaking in Parliament, Cameron said: “The last Parliament saw more than 2.2 million new apprenticeships start, and the Queen’s Speech will help to create three million more.”

Many young people are snapping up apprenticeships as a means to get into an industry and the IT sector is no different, as more and more companies are starting to see the benefits of employing an apprentice.

VIP Computers director Rich Marsden says: “We get to bring people in at an early age who we can mould to do the things that we want them to do.

“They’re enthusiastic without a doubt because we gave them that opportunity and training.”

By acting as an alternative to university, students are able to gain the skills they need whilst earning and learning at the same time. Graham Hunter, VP of skills certification EME at CompTIA, concurs: “Organisations that use apprenticeships get candidates with industry-relevant skills that are learning company culture as well as technical skill.

“For the individual candidate, apprenticeships represent a credible alternative to university, offering quality opportunities to ‘earn and learn’ and apply knowledge and skills."

IT trade association CompTIA also works with a range of further education colleges as well as training and academic partners including the likes of Just IT, TDM, New Horizons, Baltic and Firebrand.

In addition, Microsoft recently celebrated its five-year anniversary of its Partner Apprenticeship scheme, which has seen over 7,000 young people placed in about 5,000 different companies since its development.

But it isn’t just the large vendors and associations offering young people a hand into the industry, as independent retailers are also taking on apprentices.

Tahir Muhammad, owner of Stamford Hill Computers, explains: “We take students from local educational establishments as well as from abroad. These are not apprentices in the exact sense of the word, but rather students who have to complete a certain period as work experience as a requirement for their academic qualification.”

Similarly, David Stroud from The PC Surgeon also takes on apprentices, and sees it as a very rewarding process by offering younger people an insight into the tech industry.

He comments: “Mentoring young people regardless of if they stay or not, knowing that you have helped someone see a possible future in IT is very rewarding. We were lucky to have good mentors and it is our way to give back.

“We need to do more to encourage new talent and diversity into the sector.”

Apprentices have proved to be a successful means to gain a full time position within a company, with 90 per cent of apprentices staying in employment after finishing their apprenticeship, reports Gov.co.uk. Tech giant Microsoft has also witnessed this through its apprenticeship scheme, with 93 per cent of the program’s apprentices remaining with the company they complete their apprenticeship with.

Recently Microsoft also crowned the first ever female winner of its annual Apprentice of the Year competition. 19-year-old Tanya Stittle scooped the award, while Daniel Morrison won the Microsoft’s Modern Apprentice of the Year award in Scotland.

Often apprenticeships have been associated with cheap labour, but Marsden believes this just isn’t the case. VIP Computers currently has six apprentices who receive the same commission scheme as employers and a training programe internally.

“When you hear people say apprentices are just cheap labour you think that they are probably the wrong company to look at taking on an apprentice,” explains Marsden.

Although apprenticeships are increasing, the IT skills gap is still an issue in the industry, with many companies still finding gaps in IT skills. But, young people in education are still unaware of the opportunities available to them, something Milward believes companies should be targeting more.

Milward says: “In order to close the IT skills gap, businesses, the Government and schools need to work together to help raise awareness of the options open to those who are considering a career in IT.”

With the Government’s plans to increase the number of apprenticeships in the UK and Microsoft campaigning to double its offering each year, the gap may close sooner than we think.

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