Securing the future of the tech industry is becoming more and more important, especially as the UK faces a growing skills gap in a post-Brexit world. Finding new talent is a problem across multiple sectors but, given the increasingly crucial part tech and digital are playing in the overall employment landscape, it’s a problem we shouldn’t wait to address. The good news is that the apprenticeship levy has provided the perfect opportunity for organisations to examine how they attract and develop talent to address this growing demand. The shift to apprenticeships Apprenticeships are proving increasingly attractive to those who think differently and don’t want to be funnelled into university. And, just as the tech sector pursues innovation in the products they create, they are increasingly pursuing innovation in how they reach the best talent.
Degree requirements are being dropped by a number of well-known companies across tech and professional services. This trend is due to the growing realisation that first; they benefit from adding diversity of thought, background, and experience into their workforces, and second; because they can use apprenticeships to train people in the hard skills they need in areas like software engineering, data science, and machine learning.
There have been plenty of studies done to show that academic credentials are a poor correlator of job performance. Many employers are already convinced that applied learning coupled with real workplace experience is much more valuable, particularly as there is a distinct lack of university courses that are equipped to teach people on a functional level or how to problem solve for the workplace.
As the head of Bima’s Apprenticeship Council Euan Blair recently said: “For any business wanting to expand its pool of talent and reach a broader range of people, apprenticeships should be an essential part of your early talent pipeline. You can find everything from brilliant digital marketers with large social followings through to talented bedroom coders who want to become software engineers. Crucially, these are hugely talented people you might miss out on if you’re just focusing your early careers strategy on-campus recruitment, as increasing numbers of school leavers are choosing not to go to university. The untapped potential is huge.”
A helping hand for school leavers Higher fees, a disconnect between what’s taught at university and what employers are looking for, and a desire to learn outside of a purely academic context is encouraging increasing numbers of young people to pursue an alternative route. It makes no sense for the tech sector to limit its talent pool to those pursuing a degree. An apprenticeship can allow a young person to learn in an environment where they can apply their learning immediately to the task at hand and earn a wage instead of accruing debt. Raising awareness more broadly among young people is essential.
To solve this problem, we cannot solely rely on schools to build awareness and share pathways for young people into tech because they are no more bound to supporting the tech sector than they are to foster the same narrative for any other industry. Britain’s digital and tech businesses need to proactively engage with schools and youth organisations to raise awareness of what a career in tech can look like and why it’s an appealing route.
Additionally, pushing for more diversity in tech is vital, particularly to address the challenge we have currently where large sections of society feel as though they don’t have a stake in the future. If we want to play a role in solving this problem, then we need young people from every background to see tech and digital as their natural home.
Euan Blair, who is also Co-founder and CEO of WhiteHat, puts it this way: “Providing a route for a diverse group of future leaders to build their careers in tech and digital has never been more urgent or important. We have an outstanding alternative to university through apprenticeships; let’s make sure we use it.” Holly Hall is MD of the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), which is an industry association representing one of the broadest cross sections of Britain’s digital and tech community.