Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

It’s Time for Employers to Get on Board with Apprenticeships

By Graham Hunter, VP of Skills at CompTIA

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, by now HR professionals are all too familiar with the lessons learned by the business world in 2020. Over a year of remote working has left more people craving --and in many cases needing-- flexible working environments. Not only this, but a record rise in job vacancies (the UK surpassed 1M open roles in July for the first time in recorded history) means employers are having to get creative with how they entice people to join, and more importantly, how they motivate them to stick around for the long-haul. 

The UK job market is challenging at the best of times, especially after over half a decade of turmoil surrounding Brexit. The challenges we’re seeing now, though, are different - somehow more urgent and less hypothetical - than those previously. While this changed landscape poses new quandaries for HR professionals, it all boils down to a market that very much favours the job-seeker, and a phenomenon that has been termed “the Great Resignation” in the U.S. From an employer perspective, organisations need to become more attractive places to work, paying more than just lip service to what they offer. That means affording workers not only the lifestyle perks they are currently seeking, but also opportunities to build transferable skills that will serve them well for their entire working lives.

There is another element at play here for jobseekers. In the last few years, the future of higher education has come into question, thanks to rising tuition costs, a potentially untenable time investment, and an arguably tenuous link between having a degree and employability. Jobseekers, then, are looking for meaningful ‘alternative’ credentials and experiences that will be of value wherever they go; credentials that are truly transferable and give them practical skills that unlock a sustainable income. 

Through some combination of necessity and choice, where the university degree is experiencing a time of uncertainty, the apprenticeship is gaining steam as one of the most promising pathways for emerging generations of young people and those looking to upskill, reskill, or get back into the workforce. The apprenticeship, in fact, may just be the golden ticket our workforce, and certainly the tech sector, needs to fix many of its problems. As cyber-attacks are on the rise, employers need proof of better and more meaningful certifications that speak to workers’ ability to stay up-to-date on the newest threats and the best practices in IT. The apprenticeship helps employers fill specific needs and knowledge gaps within their workforce. It guarantees the apprentice a living wage while they work and learn, eliminating much strain on society caused by needlessly high unemployment and underemployment. And it helps people build up the kind of skills --like problem-solving, analytical ability, perseverance, and resourcefulness -- that are sorely needed by employers in high-demand sectors like IT; skills that can’t be acquired from a book alone or taught within the limitations of a degree program.

For the tech industry, apprenticeships are becoming essential. The tech apprenticeship -- the “earn while you learn” model -- is emerging as a viable answer, if not the answer, to solving sector-specific skills gaps while also bridging the divide between what employers need and what employees want. Critically, it holds endless promise for eliminating the deeply entrenched hiring biases that have long caused people from underrepresented groups to be screened out of sectors like tech. However, pervasive misunderstandings about the ins and outs of apprenticeships, as well as perceived difficulties with onboarding apprentices in the virtual environment, are posing barriers to widespread employer adoption. Regarding the latter, feedback from our partners suggests that --given a strong and mature candidate -- onboarding an apprentice in a virtual office poses few or no additional challenges.

The pandemic is still not over. In this time of uncertainty, we are witnessing a total shakeup of societal norms and values and watching as new norms emerge. The fact that paying workers fairly for their abilities and contributions, while giving them structured opportunities to learn, thrive, and make a living, are emerging as new norms is a huge positive for the tech sector, the workforce, and for so many of the organisations that form the backbone of the UK.