A complete change of attitude towards apprenticeship schemes is needed to remove the stigma and encourage young people to consider it a real alternative to university.
That is the claim of UKFast chief Lawrence Jones, who revealed he is doubling his firm's apprentice cohort target for the year at its £4.5m training facility in Manchester.
His claims follow recent news that channel vacancies are at an all-time high as applications reach a record low.
Jones (pictured) said the current problem is that many businesses are seeing the benefit of apprenticeship schemes, but too many families are still focused on university as an end goal for their children.
And this attitude needs to change if there is any chance of closing the digital skills gap.
He said: “I set myself the goal of recruiting 40 new programmers by June and another goal of expanding the apprenticeship programme. We’re confident about how successful our apprenticeship programme is so we merged the two goals.
“There is only so much you can learn in university in some subjects. University is of course the right path for many professions, but apprenticeships can offer the kind of specific skill sets that many innovative businesses are looking for. Successive governments have put huge emphasis on higher education, leaving apprenticeships in the shadows, but striking the right balance between the two will help us bridge the skills gap and help our economy grow.
“We have a better success rate in training apprentices than we have with university graduates, who come out of uni not knowing what they want to do and stressed about the amount of debt they’ve taken on. We are seeing signs of universities working with us to create more cutting-edge skills but we’re some way off all universities living up to that. It’s difficult to justify paying people more when they know less."
Jones continued: “The young people in our apprenticeship programme are an incredible asset to our business and to the wider community. It is our responsibility to create these attractive apprenticeship programmes and to educate both the school leavers and parents about alternative paths to university. National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect opportunity to do that.
“Universities will have to work harder to create cutting-edge curriculums as employers are finding that they have to retrain university graduates when they arrive in industry. At the moment I would take an IT apprentice any day of the week over someone at university who had done a course that wasn’t honed in.
“I believe that we need to find a balance between university graduates and school leavers coming into businesses to bridge the much-talked-about skills gap. Too many of one or the other will not give us the skills that are necessary to see Britain’s digital industry and its economy grow.”
He also welcomed the government’s initiative to get three million people into apprenticeships by 2020 and explained that apprentices can add huge value to any business.
“I would recommend any businesses considering taking on apprentices to just go for it,” he said. “Youth and the energy young people bring to an organisation is one of the most important ingredients in a successful, growing business. Alex Ferguson always had a youth team to keep the first team on its toes. Great leaders make succession planning a priority.”
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