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by James McLaughlin
03 July 2024
Tech apprenticeships: A solution to the digital divide


Tech apprenticeships: A solution to the digital divide

With the UK election fast approaching, both the Conservative and Labour parties have outlined their intentions to expand apprenticeship programmes, reflecting a growing recognition of their importance and a changing perception surrounding higher education.

Although expanding apprenticeships would represent a considerable step in the right direction, particular emphasis must be given to the role of tech apprenticeships as a solution to close the digital skills gap and diversify workforces.

Assumption change

Offering a more vocational alternative to a university degree, apprenticeship qualifications have traditionally been held in lower regard compared with academic credentials. This is largely because of a well-established assumption that the academic pathway provides a superior route to career success and social mobility.

However, this is beginning to change. A major factor driving this shift is the evolving demands of the economy and businesses. Although the growing recognition of the need for apprenticeships represents a positive development, businesses should recognise the specific advantages of tech apprenticeships as a strategic approach to achieving their objectives.

Driving talent

Tech apprenticeships are designed to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed for an increasingly technologically dependent world through a combination of practical training and academic learning. Research has shown that having a digitally skilled workforce fosters innovation, increases productivity, attracts investment, and fuels entrepreneurship.

Businesses that proactively invest in tech apprenticeships are positioning themselves to stand out from less prepared competitors. With the UK facing a widening digital skills gap characterised by recruitment difficulties, tech apprenticeships provide an effective means for companies to ensure a steady supply of tech-savvy employees and meet the demands of the digital economy.

 This can also decrease the resources needed for hiring talent and reduce expenditures, as the company will not need to offer higher salaries to attract qualified individuals. These factors are set to become increasingly crucial in the future.

Improving diversity

The benefits of a diverse workforce are undisputed. Research has revealed how diversity enhances communication and innovation, improves problem-solving, and increases employee work satisfaction. Fortunately for employers, offering tech apprenticeships is an effective way to promote workforce diversity.

Regrettably, high tuition fees and cost-of-living expenses can prevent individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from pursuing higher education. As tech apprenticeships are more accessible, embracing them fosters a more inclusive workforce, bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds. This will provide businesses with a competitive advantage.

Although tech apprenticeships are inherently more accessible, some responsibility also falls on the shoulders of businesses themselves to maximise their inclusivity. By making a deliberate effort to encourage apprentices from underrepresented groups such as neurodivergent individuals and ex-servicemen, companies can fully reap the rewards of diversity. Methods of achieving this include targeted outreach programmes as well as employing psychometric and aptitude testing within the recruitment process to reduce bias. Companies need to take the initiative and implement these strategies to democratise opportunities and maximise the benefits of diversity.

Moving forward

Businesses cannot afford to overlook the numerous benefits of tech apprenticeships in driving talent and enhancing workforce diversity. By providing accessible, hands-on training, these programs equip individuals with essential digital skills and open career pathways for those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

Companies that invest in tech apprenticeships will gain a competitive edge and better equip themselves to meet the evolving demands of the digital economy. Although the prioritisation of apprenticeships by the UK’s two largest political parties could lead to subsidies soon being introduced, companies should not wait to embrace tech apprenticeships.

James McLaughlin is UK Vice President at social impact firm WithYouWithMe

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