Youth unemployment is a persistent problem in the UK. There are clear areas of skills gaps, particularly in the technology industry due to its pace, where qualifications being gained by graduates don’t keep up with the demand or nature of the skills required. This has an implication for growth and productivity, which will affect Capgemini, our clients and the economy as a whole.

In 2011 we took action to address this by investing in our talent strategy at a junior level and reviewing the available opportunities for those who were looking for an alternative to university, or where this was not an option for them. This resulted in building a market leading apprenticeship programme, enabling us to grow our own technologists of the future. Capgemini provided the route of a higher apprenticeship with a step on to a sponsored degree following its completion. In 2015, we went a step further and partnered with Aston University to work with government and create the very first Degree Apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions.

Six years on we have invested considerably in this area with over 700 apprentices hired and 360 on programme currently, 250 of whom are on a degree apprenticeship. Junior talent makes up 30% of our UK recruitment and we have 70 new apprentice starts forecast for this year.

Since launch we have worked to continually improve our programmes. Being trailblazers has meant we have experienced some challenges and reached key milestones first. Managing a work-based learning programme has required ongoing focus to ensure that apprentices are engaged and supported throughout their degree. We have set up a support network to make sure that the apprentices have pastoral care, continual review, and are given the opportunities needed to thrive, putting into practice the learnings from their studies into their day jobs. We also had to overcome the need to share commercially sensitive information, particularly during the final degree module. We have overcome the hurdles along the way by embracing them and working with our partner Aston University and the apprentices to adapt the programme, ensuring it provides a fantastic learning experience, while also meeting the needs of the business.

This year marks a significant milestone for Capgemini, as our cohort became the country’s first degree apprentices to graduate. The results achieved were outstanding; 100% passed with a 2nd class degree or above, and 64% achieved a 1st class degree, which is more than double the Aston-on-campus average. For anyone thinking that degree apprenticeships are a second class option to pure university routes, these results demonstrate quite the opposite.

Our recent graduates will say that a degree apprenticeship is not an easy route to take. Balancing a full-time job alongside a degree is a huge undertaking, however, this group has proved that the blend of academic and practical application in the workplace truly works. They are now 6 years into their career with Capgemini, have a BSc in Digital & Technology Solutions, a salary that exceeds that of a graduate and no student debt. A bright future awaits them, with some in the process of buying property in London, an achievement most graduates could not afford.

However, as a country, we have some way to go to raise awareness of degree apprenticeships and to correct the misperceptions that are out there. We need the support of key groups including schools, parents, the government and employers to promote the successes. Together we should shout about the achievements of those who have boldly taken this direction and trusted from the outset that it would deliver for them. University is not achievable for everyone and degree apprenticeships offer the opportunity of higher education to those who may not have had it otherwise.

We have realised the benefits of degree apprenticeships, as have our clients and, most importantly, the apprentices themselves. But there is still more work to do in order to raise the profile of degree apprenticeships so that others can experience the benefits. More employers have to consider this as an option, it is absolutely the way forward to grow the skills we as a country need and to offer new pathways for tomorrow’s talent.

Ruth South, Head of Graduate and Apprenticeship Programmes at Capgemini, a consulting, technology and outsourcing company

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