As our reliance on technology continues to grow, the UK economy depends on having a strong pool of IT professionals across all sectors. There is now global competition for IT talent and the UK, like others, is facing a debilitating and widening skills shortage.

We must build a new base of IT professionals and apprenticeships are an essential platform from which to start. Simply trying to attract existing experienced professionals by paying more won’t work – it won’t meet demand and will drive up salaries, squeezing SMEs who cannot compete by just paying more.

IT Apprenticeships are more than just an alternative to going to university. Anyone should be able to become an IT apprentice, learning ‘on the job’ from skilled and experienced professionals with a tailored training programme. This could be a graduate or postgraduate wanting to become a top cyber specialist, or a school leaver, or someone wanting to make a career change into IT, or returning after a career break.

This means covering the whole range of IT skills – not just deep technical and engineering learning. For example, business analysis, programme management, IT relationship management, business process reengineering, designing for digital inclusion – making IT systems and solutions that are truly ‘good for society’. We need more IT professionals who are able to creatively blend business and technology expertise from any background.

 

A formal and recognised apprenticeship scheme, such as the Digital Industry Trailblazers supported by BCS, develops practical experience at all levels, in response to business need. It is quickly adaptable to IT trends, an important factor as retaining up to date skills in IT is one of the biggest challenges an IT professional faces.

For employers, apprenticeships are a great way to grow talent and shape culture – apprentices can quickly make a direct contribution to the business. Organisations with strong apprenticeship schemes also do better than others at retaining that talent as well, partly because of a debt of loyalty maybe, but mostly because it becomes a fun, collaborative and effective environment in which to work. It’s about being part of a ‘learning organisation’. Better still, there is government funding to support apprenticeships in IT.

These are all the reasons why I have chosen IT apprenticeships as my theme as BCS President this year.

I want to see the IT profession portrayed as offering varied and exciting careers that are flexible, well-paid, creative and challenging.

I firmly believe that IT apprenticeships must grow the next generation of IT professionals we will need over the next 20 years in order to harness technology value for social well-being and business competitiveness. It can’t just come from formal college courses.

The BCS, working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Gatesby Foundation have designed the first Digital Industry Trailblazer apprenticeships, aligned with the new Professional Registration of IT Technicians to be launched later this year. Apprentices studying these via a training provider assessed by the Institute, will be given BCS membership for the length of their apprenticeship and will be eligible to apply for a place on the professional register.

Do you know of a great IT apprenticeship scheme? Then nominate the individual or the company on the annual BCS Awards in the new apprenticeship category for this year.