Will apprenticeships fill the cloud tech skills gap?

Why apprenticeships should not be allowed to become spin and why the Government and the tech industry needs to act now.

A few weeks ago, I had the luxury of watching the news for a couple of hours on my sofa, having caught the September virus my children picked up from school. One of the stories on the 30 minute cycle on BBC News 24, featured an OECD report on the use of technology in education. However the BBC’s coverage of the report, in my opinion, sought to ‘spin’ the use of technology in school as having a negative impact on English and Maths results.

Infuriated by this, I read the report, and whilst it did say that countries with higher in-school technology adoption didn’t necessarily do better in English and Maths, it also concluded that this did not mean technology caused poor STEM results, nor was there any correlation between the two factors. In fact, the report actually found that a number of high performing countries did have widespread adoption of technology in their schools.

What it did not say was that technology had a negative impact on learning in schools, even if that was the overall feeling you were left with after watching the BBC report. Anyway have a read of the report yourself and make up your own mind.

When asked about the report, the OECD’s Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, said that the most important thing we need to focus on is the positive application of technology in schools and how we equip teachers with the skills they need in order to succeed in the classroom, see what he had to say first hand for yourself in this video of his presentation.

It’s not a ‘Technology: Good or Bad?” story. It’s a “Technology: How do we make it work” story.

In my view we need to invest in schools, teachers and the appropriate use of technology in learning environments. Why? Because we have a skills shortage in one of the fastest growing industries since the industrial revolution.

As this research article shows, we have a digital skills shortage in the UK. We have an education system that doesn’t even get close to fulfilling these places so the UK economy ends up having to import skills from overseas. Coupled with this there is a currently a squeeze underway on Tier 2 (skilled worker) visas as the Government tries to control immigration and the impact of the newly announced apprenticeship levy, announced in the latest budget, remains unclear. The implementation of this levy is under review, but in its current state it looks like a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on larger firms that will then give the money back to the Government.

SME’s, like Carrenza, appear to have been overlooked as potential havens for apprentices and recipients of this levy. We currently employ three apprentices in a team of 25 and they are fantastic. The phrase a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out’ has been used in a number of ways over the last few weeks and in my experience, apprentice schemes are exactly that, they encourage the market to train and nurture talent with hands on experience.

Experience is the single most valuable thing I look for when I’m interviewing someone of any age. My experience of apprenticeships over the last decade has been limited, 8 years ago I employed the first of three apprentices over a three year period and had a 66% success rate. Their work rate was excellent but the big challenge as I see it is now the need to encourage more students to take this route into work, particularly in the technology sector.

Any way I’ve put my money where my mouth is, I’ve just employed three more apprentices via the London based Tech City Stars program. Mr Osborne that’s only another 2,999,997 we need to recruit by 2020.

Anyway the Department for Business Innovation and Skills appears to be open-minded to some change and ensuring that the levy is introduced with positive outcomes, but let’s hope it isn’t just spin and turns into reality as it’s a critically important lever for the digital economy.

This blog post first appeared in Cloud Computing Intelligence on Friday 16th October.

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