Saturday Essay: Diversity, Community And Collaboration: How Apprentices Can Help To Address The Skills Gap In The Tech IndustryCrispin Read, CEO of The Coders Guild explores how apprentices can help tech companies close the skills gap.
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The tech industry is truly one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet, creating a range of opportunities for businesses across the UK and for people who’re interested in entering into the sector.
However, there are key challenges that must be addressed to ensure the tech industry is able to thrive in the future. A lack of diversity and a digital skills shortage are obstacles that need to be overcome and I’m going to make the case for how these challenges can be solved in a simple and cost-effective way: through introducing more apprentices into the world of tech.
But first, let’s take a look at a few stats to highlight why now is the best time to start investing in young talent from different backgrounds.
· In 2020, £10 billion was invested in UK tech companies and employment in tech grew by 44%.
· 20 of the fastest growing tech companies in the country are in Leeds.
· 2020 was the Yorkshire region’s strongest year, with digital tech brands raising £159 million in investment.
Now let’s look at a few stats that demonstrate the scale of the challenges that need to be overcome:
· 77% of new tech jobs are filled by men and 71% of director led tech roles are filled by men.
· 73% of tech employers in Yorkshire are reporting a digital skills gap.
· The UK unemployment rate for women currently stands at 4.8%.
Making the case for apprentices in tech
In the context of a skills shortage, tech apprenticeships bring several things to the table and when businesses are able to find the right talent at the right time, there are many benefits for everyone involved.
Helping the UK economy recover
The fact is that tech offers one of the greatest post-pandemic growth opportunities and apprentices are key to helping the UK economy recover after months of lockdowns, uncertainty and redundancies.
Where tech apprentices can truly add value is in the support of new start-ups, SMEs and in large firms who’re looking to take their growth strategies to a new level.
A fresh perspective
To help the tech industry move forward, new ideas and perspectives need to be injected into businesses and apprentices are the people to lead the future of the sector. While learning, they have access to the most up to date best practices and can still retain their own ideas.
Brands will benefit from a workforce that isn’t afraid to bring in fresh ideas and constantly innovate.
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Studies have demonstrated that hiring apprentices leads to an increase in productivity across a business. When trainees are eager to learn, they are more likely to commit to the time needed to develop a certain skill set and this in turn improves internal processes.
Higher staff retention
Another benefit of tech apprenticeships is that they provide higher employee retention rates. The industry has a diverse pool of driven candidates who’re looking to upskill themselves and businesses that offer apprenticeships are going to have a naturally dedicated workforce.
There’s also the opportunity for apprentices to have a structured path towards career development and that is likely to increase their sense of loyalty to a company that invests time and money into honing specific skills.
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Apprenticeships are perfect vehicles for introducing greater diversity into the tech industry and breaking down barriers (perceived or otherwise) to people of all ages and backgrounds wanting to begin or progress their career in tech. The apprenticeship route pushes us to recruit for potential rather than experience and opens up opportunities for improving the inclusivity of our recruitment processes.
The same applies for anyone who wants to make a career change - at any age - or who wants to refresh their knowledge and grow on a personal level through learning new skills.
From a business perspective, organisations that hire a diverse range of talent are shown to have a better working culture, better staff retention and better problem solving capabilities.
When an organisation takes on an apprentice, they can save money by gaining an additional team member at a lower cost. This is due to apprentices playing an active role in day-to-day operations while they learn new skills to help them progress.
All companies are eligible for up to £3,000 of government grant funding for each apprentice they recruit. When combined with front-loaded, industry-led tech training for apprentices, like the courses provided by The Coders Guild, the return on investment can be incredible.
How to address a skills shortage with apprenticeships
For tech businesses who’ve taken the plunge and invested in training apprentices, I’ve put together some essential tips for making sure they thrive:
Get the onboarding process right
It’s imperative that the onboarding process runs as smoothly as possible to ensure apprentices have the support they need to develop. The process should involve an overview of company culture, a clear explanation of roles and responsibilities and carve out a clear path to career progression.
Make sure that apprentices feel included at every step of the journey.A good way to do this would be for a CEO to meet a group of new joiners and demonstrate an open working environment from day one.
Another example is to set up a flexible schedule that gives trainees an option to work remotely as well as in the office.
Create shared experiences with workshops
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Developing an atmosphere of shared experiences among apprentices creates a sense of community. This could involve running regular workshops for groups of apprentices where they solve problems together, take part in hackathons or participate in social activities.
Keep progression moving at a steady pace
Giving an apprentice regular challenges ensures they are able to grow, and their skills develop at a gradual pace. It also stops them from stagnating and provides more variety throughout their workday, so they don’t feel bored.
This process might involve setting out a clear programme where an apprentice learns a specific set of skills on a weekly basis or tasks are assigned on an ad hoc basis. The key is to find the balance between manageable tasks and creating room for further development.
Set up a support network
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Mentorship is a vital part of any successful apprenticeship programme, especially for young talent who are new to the tech sector. An example of mentorship might be to assign an apprentice to a senior staff member who is responsible for tracking the progress of the trainee and providing regular feedback.
Or it could be a group mentorship programme where apprentices have one on one time with various members of staff and learn different aspects of the business.
While providing constructive criticism is a necessary part of helping trainees grow, don’t forget to offer praise when appropriate and celebrate small achievements.
A potential idea is to develop a reward-based methodology based on the stages of an apprenticeship programme. For example, someone who’s halfway to completing their apprenticeship could be treated to a specific social activity.
Offer a full-time role on completion
Depending on the nature of the apprenticeship programme, a business may be in a position to offer the apprentice a full-time job or promotion.
This is beneficial from a staff retention perspective and provides the trainee with the opportunity to continue to grow their skillset in an environment they are familiar with.
By embracing the above techniques, I truly think tech organisations will be in a much better position to help apprentices thrive.I’ll finish by summing up what I’ve learned personally from my own journey of working in tech and exploring how to close the digital skills gap.
Always communicate with fellow solution providers
Albert Einstein once said if he had an hour to save the world, he’d spend 55 minutes analysing the problem and 5 minutes on the solution. I think it’s vital that tech companies take the right amount of time to analyse the problem with their skills gap and think about how they can bestaddress it.
To that end, communicating and collaborating with like-minded brands is paramount to ensuring staff and employers have the training they need to flourish. We all need to work together, whether that’s through pooling talent, resources or generating specific expertise.
Champion initiatives and take responsibility
Always promote and support initiatives you’re passionate about through whatever means are available to you. This means using our own social media channels to shout about training schemes, sharing news on digital courses, collaborating on round table events and more.
I’ve learned it’s important to take responsibility across all aspects of a business, from investing in and training new staff, to supporting their development at every stage. This also extends to the communities we’re a part of and taking the initiative to connect solution providers together, for the benefit of everyone.
Through the act of connecting all people together who want to take responsibility in the tech industry, I believe a true difference will be made.