Regional growth calls for an increase in tech apprenticeships
Earlier this year it was reported by the National Audit Office that the number of people starting a training programme under the government's new apprenticeship scheme has fallen significantly.
Radical changes implemented two years earlier made the scheme more costly and unwieldy for employers. Since then, there has been a 26% drop in take-up, from 509,400 to 375,800. This seems to suggest that the scheme as it stands isn’t sufficiently attractive to either employees or potential trainees to allow the government to get anywhere near its target of creating three million new apprentices by 2020.
The main issues are UK-wide, and revolve around funding. Funds are available to be claimed in line with a rolling deadline, and recently £133m of apprenticeship levy funds were lost to employers. However, the scheme is said to be designed based on the assumption that large employers will not be able to spend all of their money, in order to leave some behind for SME (small- and medium-sized enterprise) employers.
This element appears not to be working, as it has been claimed that SMEs are being prevented from taking on apprentices due to a lack of funding in the scheme being available for them to access.
This appears to be the case despite an initiative having been introduced last year to allow employers to transfer 10 percent of their annual apprenticeship funds to other organisations in an attempt to boost flexibility when it comes to closing skills gaps.
The East of England
Focusing in on the East of England, the situation matches the bigger picture, with uptake in apprenticeships falling from 46,650 in 2015–16 to 36,700 in 2017–18. However, action to combat the decline is being taken. In October 2019, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) launched the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Pool. The aim is to facilitate the transfer of unspent apprenticeship levy payments to SMEs in Norfolk and Suffolk, to help get more people into apprenticeships.
Six months earlier, New Anglia LEP announced £14.5 million in funding for digital skills projects across Norfolk and Suffolk, as part of its new economic strategy for both regions. This came on the heels of 2017’s Digital Tech Skills Plan, which forecast a substantial shortfall of skilled workers to fill IT jobs within the digital and tech industries in the next ten years and included proposals aimed at ensuring infrastructure was in place to help address that, by creating over 10,000 digital and tech graduates and entrepreneurs.
The UK Powerhouse study, issued in July 2018, stated that three of the five fastest-growing city economies in the UK are in East Anglia. Cambridge was in first place, Ipswich in second and Norwich in fifth. They are predicted to hold on to positions in the top 10 through to the final quarter of 2028.
This growth needs to be supported by and reflected in an increase of tech apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships are open to people from the age of 16 and are offered in the digital sector in the fields of information technology; software development; web design; data analysis; and cyber security.
They are available at different levels:
- Intermediate, level 2, equivalent to a GCSE.
- Advanced, level 3, equivalent to an A level.
- Higher, levels 4, 5, 6 and 7, equivalent to a Foundation degree and above.
- Degree, levels 6 and 7, equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
As an example of how it works, SimpleClick – a bespoke software development agency based in Ipswich – has launched its first apprenticeship scheme, in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).
Two apprentices will split their time between the university and the agency. They will spend one full week per term at ARU and the rest of the time at SimpleClick. Of the time spent at the agency, 20% will be dedicated to study.On successful completion of the apprenticeship, a Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship BSc (Hons) will be awarded; there will also be the possibility of a full-time job as a junior developer.