From education to employment

National Apprenticeship Week 2024: Skills For Life

Jenny Taylor

“Skills for Life” is both an inspirational and very appropriate theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week. The half-life of skills is shrinking making continuous learning essential. In this article, Jenny explains how apprenticeships can help individuals and organisations fill the growing skills gap.

“Skills for Life” is a very inspirational theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week. “It all starts with skills” is the strapline and what an interesting one to choose, as opposed to “it all starts with qualifications or exam results”. The campaign aims to inspire individuals and businesses to make the most of their potential. This is very much needed, as according to the World Economic Forum, closing the global skills gap could add US$11.5 trillion to global GDP by 2028, and education and training systems need to keep pace with market demands. Companies estimate that 50% of all employees will need reskilling.

At IBM, this is not a new theme. Continuous skills development is critical in delivering valued service to our clients, and therefore a sustainable learning culture is paramount to IBM’s success. Every IBMer commits to enhancing their skills on an ongoing basis.  It’s also changed our attitude to how we recruit at all levels in the company not just in the UK, but globally too. In today’s economy, a career in technology does not always require a traditional bachelor’s degree. Skills are the currency of today and tomorrow and the half-life of skills is shrinking; the skills a person has today could be obsolete in a few years which makes continuous learning essential.

Change starts at the top

Change starts at the top, so executive buy in to “Skills for Life” is vital. Leaders can change the tone used within a company and create more open and equitable pathways to employment for all by ensuring they have an integrated apprenticeship strategy. Showcasing talent to the organisation, sharing their amazing stories, and showing off their results is a great way to encourage others to follow. Apprenticeships are relevant for people of all ages and all levels. They are a chance to earn while you learn. They are also great opportunities for mid-career workers to build new skills or break into new industries without having to leave the workforce to be a full-time student.

In recruitment, we emphasise skills-first hiring, meaning we prioritise the right mix of in-demand skills over specific degrees when looking for talent to work in technology’s fastest-growing areas such as cloud computing, AI, cybersecurity, and digital design. Skills-first hiring addresses the opportunity-gap and provides a pathway for diverse talent to enter the technology industry. Our skills-first policy helps address the disconnect between job openings and qualified applicants.

We have then gone even further, by making a global plan to provide 30 million people of all ages with the new skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow by 2030. This commitment will help democratise opportunity, fill the growing skills gap, and give new generations of workers the tools they need to be successful in an ever-changing economy.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Skills Gap

If we look at the hot topic of artificial intelligence (AI), a new IBM study has found that the top barrier hindering successful AI adoption at enterprises both exploring or deploying AI are limited AI skills and expertise (38%).  Nearly one-in-four (24%) UK organisations do not have employees with the right skills in place to use new AI or automation tools and 19% cannot find new hires with the skills to address that gap. Only 32% are currently training or reskilling employees to work together with new automation and AI tools.

To help close the global AI skills gap, IBM has made a commitment to train two million learners in AI by the end of 2026, with a focus on underrepresented communities. To achieve this goal at a global scale, IBM is expanding AI education collaborations with universities and NGOs globally, collaborating with partners to deliver AI training to adult learners, and launching new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild.

IBM SkillsBuild is a free education programme focused on underrepresented communities in technology, that helps adult learners, and school and university students develop valuable new skills and access career opportunities. The programme includes an online platform that is complemented by customised practical learning experiences delivered in collaboration with a global network of partners.

The open online platform offers over 1,000 courses in 20 languages on cybersecurity, data analysis, cloud computing and many other technical disciplines – as well as in workplace skills such as Design Thinking. Participants can earn IBM-branded digital credentials that are recognised by the market and which are extremely valuable on CVs and application forms. For “Skills for Life” SkillsBuild is an ideal vehicle for success. Free offerings are also critical to narrowing the digital divide and improving socioeconomic equity.

IBM volunteer mentors help learners gain a richer understanding of material and career possibilities. IBM helps connect learners with job opportunities through job fairs, workshops and seminars on professional competencies, referrals for job interviews, CV building resources, micro-internships, T-Level work placements and apprenticeships.

In late 2023, IBM SkillsBuild also launched a new sustainability curriculum. New research from IBM and Morning Consult confirmed that the growing skills gap in sustainability poses a threat to the workforce across industries. 71% of business leaders surveyed anticipate their business will emphasise sustainability skills criteria in their hiring in the next two years, with 92% expecting to invest in sustainability training in the next year.  

There has never been a time when “Skills for Life” is more important for the UK economy

So, looking at all the evidence, there has never been a time when “Skills for Life” is more important for the UK economy. IBM is proud to contribute in so many different ways.  My particular passion, our award winning and Ofsted Outstanding rated apprenticeship programme, will be of course, at the forefront in National Apprenticeship Week. One of our current apprentices, Louisa Seers, who is a brilliant example of what can be achieved through the “ladder of opportunity”, is featured in the official Department for Education (DfE) campaign; and all our apprentices will be out there during the week visiting schools, posting on social media and participating in NAW events.    

This campaign will ultimately make a difference to people’s lives. Hearing from real people is inspirational for the next set of learners who are taking their first steps on their skills journey. We hope to inspire the take up of apprenticeships and skills courses that could change their lives, boost their job prospects, earning potential and self-confidence.

By Jenny Taylor, UK Lead of Early Professional Programmes, IBM

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