Apprenticeships were a key feature of this week’s Budget and provide a renewed focus on their value as a proven and viable solution to get people into jobs, increase social mobility and develop the homegrown skills businesses needed for future growth.
While there is a need to focus on the impact of COVID-19 on jobseeker prospects, we should also be talking, even more urgently, about the very real opportunities that exist across every business in digital. While overall apprenticeship starts declined by around 16% year on year, digital remained flat, with starts outperforming the market trend from April through to June 2020.
Almost half of UK firms are looking to recruit tech workers. These roles, regardless of sector, require the same skills: data analytics, AI and cybersecurity. There is a rising demand for skilled digital specialists, with our own research estimating that there will be close to three million new technology jobs in the UK by 2025.
Apprentices can offer the fresh thinking businesses need right now as they look to rewrite the rules of working norms. With training taking place fully online it is a flexible solution set up for the remote work era. Yet even in the current climate, businesses, the majority small, are struggling to fill apprenticeship vacancies. The proposed increase in financial incentives for employers is an energising step to encourage more employers to take on apprentices but unless vacancies are filled, the benefits, both human and financial, cannot be realised.
Microsoft reinvests our apprentice levy to fund training in our network of customers and partners, many small businesses, who lack the resources to fund proprietary schemes or the big brand name to attract a diverse pool of candidates. Last year, one Microsoft partner received only six applications for their three vacancies. All too often we find small businesses cannot take advantage of funding without start placements filled, which can severely impede their growth.
To date, accessing digital apprenticeship opportunities has not been straightforward. For people seeking an apprenticeship, particularly those with unsupportive networks, discovering the right role across multiple online and offline channels and formats is confusing. For employers, selecting the right learning partner to help deliver higher skills training and certification is complex. It’s why Microsoft and GetMyFirstJob are launching the Microsoft Apprenticeship Connector, an online platform that will connect young people seeking an apprenticeship to vacancies across our network of partners and customers. The launch follows several initiatives the company has announced to help people improve their digital skills, including Get On 2021, a five-year UK campaign to help 1.5 million people build careers in technology and help 300,000 connect to tech job opportunities.
Since 2010, we have helped nearly 30,000 people start a digital apprenticeship, with tens of thousands going on to well rewarded, sustainable careers. At the same time, it means we’re building an ‘ecosystem’ of talent for the tech sector and equipping business with the relevant skills needed for future growth. It is a similar ambition the government looks set to take with their proposed ‘flexi-job’ approach which could well support and strengthen skills capacity in other sectors.
With sustainable economic growth and skills for jobs a priority for all, I urge everyone to look at the benefits digital apprenticeships can bring to your business. You too can play a part in providing opportunity for the people that need it most, in the businesses that need it most.