IT apprenticeships: the time is right

I last wrote about IT apprenticeships, and their growing importance in widening the pool of IT talent and addressing skills shortages, in this column in April 2011.

In the 17 months since then, we have seen more action, more initiatives and more interest in the concept than over the whole of the previous decade.

And those developments are likely to be of interest to any CIO planning the future staffing of their own department.

A significant move towards a sound national structure for IT apprenticeships was achieved this February when nine major players including Accenture, Atos, Capgemini, CSC, Fujitsu, HP, Logica, Siemens and Steria) signed a new charter for the employment of apprentices.

Supported by e-skills UK (the Sector Skills Council for Business and IT), the British Computer Society (BCS) and Business in the Community (BiTC), the nine succeeded in defining six specific apprenticeship roles and agreeing on matters such as entry qualifications, pay scales, training requirements, timescales, standards and routes to professionally qualified status.

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All nine companies came to the table convinced of their own uniqueness, but once they started delving into the detail of how apprentices would be working, and in what roles, it became clear that the similarities from company to company greatly outweighed the differences, which were often largely down to individual company jargon.

The charter agreement has had a dramatic impact in just six months, with the number of apprentices taken on by the nine vendors rising from 200 last year to 500 confirmed places for this September's recruitment round, and further major expansion planned over the next few years.

All the companies involved are clear that this expansion is not at the expense of graduate recruitment programmes which will continue to be a major source of new talent.

It is a point taken up by Mark Heholt of e-skills: “Apprenticeships are available to incomers of all ages, but are particularly appealing to school leavers. Their expansion will help fill skills gaps in the industry, and provide employment opportunities in this key sector to people with a broad range of backgrounds and prior achievements.”