Digital apprenticeships – How students and employers can benefit

Digital apprenticeships

Olivia Wolfheart explains how a digital apprenticeship can serve as a gateway to a rewarding, well-paid career…

Olivia Wolfheart
by Olivia Wolfheart
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Tech skills have never been in such high demand by employers. However, there remains a shortage of people with the required knowledge.

Once appropriately trained and qualified, some may therefore be able to pick and choose from a range of job prospects, put out there by firms lacking the necessary expertise.

Indeed, digital skills are becoming ever more vital across a range of sectors. This includes everything from construction, health, media, retail, travel and hospitality, right through to the more traditional banking and engineering.

Digital apprenticeships

Name an entry level role, and chances are that candidates will be required to possess some form of digital skills. The digital apprenticeships currently showing most demand include those in the areas of:

  • business analytics
  • software development
  • digital marketing
  • cybersecurity

A digital marketeer, for instance, will likely find themselves helping deliver promotional campaigns via social media. A cybersecurity expert will be engaged in pursuing computer hackers. A data analyst will be tasked with providing the facts and context for crucial decisions.

Or perhaps artificial intelligence or machine learning appeals? AI isn’t just about self-driving cars; it’s already being used to manage incredibly complex commercial operations with high levels of speed, efficiency, and insight.

Then there’s working as a business analyst. Here, the day job may involve looking at how companies can make the best use of their technical systems and using data analysis to create further efficiencies.

Working while learning

Digital apprenticeships last a minimum of one year. They’ll typically see the apprentice spending 80% of their time learning and getting valuable experience in the workplace. They’ll then spend 20% ‘off the job’, participating in structured training.

Apprentices thus benefit from simultaneously earning a wage and gaining qualifications, with no cost involved for the training itself.

The qualifications needed to commence digital apprenticeships will largely depend on its level, the organisation involved and specific job role.

Level 3 apprenticeships are approximately equivalent to two A Levels. Level 4 apprenticeships are equivalent to foundation degrees, while higher-level apprenticeships are equivalent to degree level and upwards.

Yet for all the opportunities and variety of experiences available, it’s still the case that young people tend to view careers based around digital skills, computing and technology in a very particular way.

Digital dimension

The careers to which young people are most readily attracted tend to be highly visible. Think doctors, vets, sportspeople, teachers. However, it’s worth driving home that these areas of employment all contain a digital dimension to them. Digital health solutions, for example, or the technology solutions now routinely deployed in classrooms.

Young people are often driven to improve the world in which we live. This opens up numerous opportunities to demonstrate how technology can help.

Examples might include the successful development of COVID-19 vaccines, or the range of ways in which technology is being used to combat climate change (such as improving waste management schemes in smart cities), and improve our overall levels of security (by protecting individuals and businesses from fraud and cyber attacks)

Relatable careers

A career in technology opens the door to a process of continual upskilling and pathways out to numerous exciting sectors.

Whichever path students eventually choose for themselves, if they possess up-to-date digital skills and the ability to apply them, their employability will increase considerably.

A career in computing will help to enhance a number of transferable skills, including computational thinking and logical problem solving.

A great way of making such careers more visible and relatable can be to take learning outside the classroom on occasion. Or you can bring the outside world in.

There are numerous competitions and events open to schools. These are designed to inspire and inform young people about the career opportunities available to them in tech. Many teachers report finding such events helpful in positively influencing students to pursue technology-related career options.

At larger scale events, there will tend to be technology professionals present who are willing to visit local schools, provide talks and demonstrations and even potentially mentor certain groups or individual students.

By showcasing role models in technology, breaking down stereotypes and bringing to life the exciting, creative and collaborative opportunities technology allows for, we can make tech careers much more appealing to young people.

Digital apprenticeships case study: Cameron

As told by his mother, Claire

Cameron struggled at sixth form college, and wasn’t quite sure what direction to go in. He’d thought about an engineering apprenticeship, so I was surprised when he decided to go into IT.

But it’s great – he’ll never be out of a job, because there are lots of careers you can go into. There’s still a perception that apprenticeships are tradebased, for plasterers and the like. There isn’t enough information out there – it always seems that the emphasis is on A Levels, or going on to university.

There needs to be more promotion in the media, so that people can be made more aware of modern digital apprenticeships. I did a Youth Training Scheme in the 80s myself, which was like an apprenticeship in that I had to work and study.

It was a great start to my career, and the places I’ve worked for since have had apprentices, so I was familiar with the idea of learning on the job.

Excellent mentors

Completing a digital apprenticeship gave Cameron insight into where he could go, and what areas might interest him. It’s so important, when choosing a career, that you’re able to be passionate about it.

The great thing about the apprenticeship is that it’s given Cameron independence. He has a salary and has built up valuable workplace experience, along with everything else that goes with that, such as time management skills and team working abilities.

He’s had excellent mentors, and really put his whole heart into it. To other parents, I’d say that apprenticeships are a fantastic gateway into a career which I would recommend it to anyone.

I’m so proud of what Cameron has achieved now that he’s qualified, and am very excited about his future.

Olivia Wolfheart is a membership engagement manager at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and a former GCSE computer science teacher.

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