From education to employment

Schools and colleges need to better promote apprenticeships if we’re to tackle the UK’s tech talent shortage

Karen Handley, Head of Future Careers at Virgin Media O2

Over the last month, students up and down the country have been receiving exam results. A time of celebration, a moment to reflect and, for many, their gateway into the world of work.

It’s an exciting moment for young people but every year I’m reminded that many schools and colleges still believe success is solely measured by how many students go on to university.

You’d be hard pressed to find a high-performing college or school that doesn’t advertise the percentage of its students who were accepted at a Russell Group university: Few proudly share the same stats for students starting apprenticeships.

University can kickstart people’s careers

University can kickstart people’s careers – mine included. Our graduate scheme has produced some of our best and brightest employees. But too often it’s pushed on young people as their only option.

A recent study we commissioned found that a quarter of 11-18 year olds don’t think their school teaches them enough about apprenticeship schemes and common misconceptions remain. 

Apprenticeship schemes were once few and far between, and limited to certain industries where interest often outstripped opportunity.

Yet today, that outdated image couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether it’s network engineering or digital marketing, project management or cyber security, apprenticeships can kickstart careers in an almost endless number of industries. Increasingly, they can be the key to unlocking a career in the most in-demand tech roles. 

Despite this, too often apprenticeships are seen as somehow inferior, and schools don’t encourage bright young people down that path. There is still an unfounded stigma with learning on the job and getting paid for it. It’s an issue we need to address.

Businesses have a role to play

We need to keep creating new and exciting opportunities for talented people, continue investing in them and raising awareness of what’s on offer.

Our current apprentices are our greatest ambassadors, and regularly go into schools to talk about their experience. But we’re just one company – we all need to fly the apprenticeship flag. 

We have a lot to gain. Not a day goes by when we’re not reminded about the tech talent shortage: Recent TechNation research has found that tech roles account for 14% of all UK job vacancies. Highly skilled tech roles are some of the hardest to fill, yet are key to delivering on the government’s aim of becoming a global science and tech superpower.

A mission to upgrade the UK

We’re on a mission to upgrade the UK, and for that we need everything from network designers to DevOp engineers, planners to data scientists. All are vital to helping expand and deliver the infrastructure of the future. All are paths you can start as an apprentice.

If we can get more young people into apprenticeships, we can teach them industry relevant skills while paying them. But to do this, we need schools and colleges to recognise their value. 

Apprenticeships aren’t a dirty word. And if we don’t change our thinking fast, we’ll miss out on the next generation of talent.

By Karen Handley, Head of Future Careers at Virgin Media O2

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