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Recently published statistics on digital apprenticeship starts for the level 3 and level 4 standards show they are becoming an increasingly popular choice, particularly for younger entrants.

There are currently 14 published standards in the digital arena and in 2016/17 all had varying numbers of starts, which contrasts sharply with the wider apprenticeship world where only 64% out of the total number of 194 standards could boast similar levels of take-up. This trend was further highlighted at a recent BCS digital apprenticeship event where John Pritchard, head of apprentices at the industry body, confirmed that digital standards are bucking the overall trend in terms of their popularity

In fact the total number of starts on digital standards equated to 14% of the starts on all standards during the same time period. Contrast this with 2013/14 when we had digital frameworks (just prior to the introduction of the current standards) and the digital share of total starts was just 3%.

So what are the most popular roles that apprentices are looking to fill? Currently the support roles appear to attract the higher numbers, in particular:

  • Infrastructure technician – setting up systems, providing support to IT users and rectifying any issues
  • Network engineer – designing, installing, maintaining and supporting communication networks within an organisation or between organisations

Notably, the infrastructure role has become so popular that only three other apprenticeship standards (retailer, installation/maintenance electrician and team leader/supervisor) have had more starts over the past two years.

Perhaps one of the attractions of both roles is that they provide the apprentice a sound technical grounding, which in turn gives them an excellent base to move onto more specialist roles in the future. And given the fact that the latest BCS CIO survey cited data science, cyber security, machine learning and artificial intelligence as ‘must-have’ skills for forward looking organisations, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to progress!

However, it’s not just about support, as one of the other faster growing standards is ‘digital marketer’ where the role is much more proactive. This involves defining, designing, building and implementing digital campaigns across a variety of online and social media platforms with the aim of driving customer acquisition, engagement and retention. And it is roles such as this that can play a critical part in digital transformations as organisations seek to gain a competitive edge through the innovative use of technology.

Irrespective of the different roles, one thing is clear – the digital opportunities are particularly appealing to younger apprentices. The figures show that 91% of last year’s starts on digital apprenticeships were aged 24 or less. The only exception was the business analyst role where all entrants were older, though perhaps this isn’t surprising given the fact that a mix of both business and technical knowledge is advantageous so greater experience may be required.

Why is it that are digital apprenticeships proving so popular? Well, one of the major reasons is undoubtedly the career opportunities on offer. It’s widely accepted that there is an IT skills crisis in the UK at present, with businesses of all sizes facing difficulties in filling tech and digital roles. Little wonder then that a Tech Partnership survey found employers are increasingly looking for digital apprentices to help solve the skills shortages, believing that they bring new energy and enthusiasm to their businesses, and help them adopt relevant skills more quickly.

Another significant factor is that the apprenticeships are based on competencies rather than qualifications. The apprentice is required to demonstrate a core set of technical competencies which are defined in each apprenticeship standard and, importantly for the employer, meet “real world” requirements.

All of which means that as our reliance on technology continues to grow, the demand for digital apprentices will increase correspondingly. The IT skills gap is forecast to widen and digital apprentices have a vital role to play in addressing it.

John Pritchard of the BCS, summed things up neatly when he said: “…digital apprenticeships help create the talent that is vital in boosting the UK’s diverse digital economy. Apprenticeships benefit organisations by allowing them to recruit, and grow their own IT teams and develop the talent they need for the future.”

Want to find out more about apprenticeship programmes? Contact GK Apprenticeships at 01672 861 073 or visit our website at www.gkapprenticeships.com 

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