Are apprentices enough to save the UK from a digital skills gap?

Created 16/08/2018 12:00am

It’s no secret that the UK has an alarming shortage of skilled workers in STEM industries. It’s a skills gap that is worrying for industrial growth and is widening, as more of the talent who have contributed to our technological advancements in the last 30 years approach retirement age. Now, with an impending slow down within the UK STEM scene rapidly approaching, the focus is turning to apprenticeships in order to attract home-grown talent.


Why is there a gap?

When you look at the industry as a whole it's easy to see why technical jobs experience talent shortages. The sheer pace of development within the tech sectors, particularly in digital and software development is proving to be a strain. The fast-paced environment is making it difficult to search for skilled talent in real-time, as the requirements for some roles are changing too frequently. Some industry predictions suggest that up to 35% of core skills needed by employees at all levels in 2020 will be vastly different than they were in 2015.

Apprenticeships have also become less popular, as more young people gravitate towards university, sometimes purely for the experience of a student lifestyle, and after a degree, graduates can be less inclined to begin a process of education again, even if it is on the job. It’s an attitude that’s not necessarily reflected across Europe, with Germany a leading example of how and why apprenticeships are at the heart of the country’s engineering expertise.

The news cycle around advancements such as AI can also be off putting, especially to those who are not technophiles. The abundance of stories and research that point to the decline of many well-thought of roles in the engineering and scientific space are enough to deter many, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that innovations like AI will actually create as many jobs as they displace, especially in the technology sector.


How are companies addressing it?

As the gap grows bigger, companies and organisations are doing all they can to offset the declining number of skilled workers.

Taking a particular element of technology, like software development for example, it’s important that companies not only attract workers with the right skills, but also retain them. By taking a chance on an entry level employee like a graduate or apprentice, and offering them a comprehensive training scheme geared to software development, companies have the opportunity to mold someone and watch them flourish. This not only attends to the demand of the skills shortage, but also aids retention as company loyalty is always much higher for employers who are willing to give someone their first break in the industry. 

UKESF (The UK Electronic Skills Foundation) are one of the bodies dedicated to bringing in talent through apprenticeships and similar schemes to the electronics industry, and they are now beginning a real push to combat this shortage. However, one of the biggest issues the industry is facing is not only attracting young people, but attracting young people from diverse backgrounds. The spotlight needs to be on showcasing the opportunities of working in STEM, not just to young people but also their parents, who may not be aware of the array of creativity and opportunity available.

Apprenticeships give the chance for on the job learning while earning a wage, which for many young people is an attractive proposition. It’s now vital that the industry focuses on making sure students are aware of the variety of job prospects available across STEM both post-school and post-university. By also ensuring you offer continuous on the job training to existing workers, you can stay ahead of the curve by not only securing employees for the future, but also ensuring they remain interested and excited by what the company is offering.


For advice on introducing a comprehensive apprenticeship programme to your business contact Howard Murfin on