How apprenticeships can save the world

The 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos played out the same way it has previously.

World leaders, business executives and charity figures, including Sir David Attenborough and Prince William, gathered in the Swiss town to sip champagne and discuss how to fight collectively against poverty and how to stop climate change. 

From the tech corner, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty stressed that the way we look at work and our careers is no longer sustainable.

What the Fourth Industrial Revolution really needs is for companies to hire apprentices to prevent the skills gap becoming a crisis.

Students undertake apprenticeships as an alternative to university with the chance to earn money and gain practical on-the-job training instead of being left with an average of £50,000 worth of debt for a 3-year degree.

Far from confined to ‘blue collar jobs’ such as carpentry or plumbing, apprenticeships can bring enormous benefits to the tech sector.

It’s time to finally acknowledge that apprenticeships can also benefit businesses in return as they offer a practical solution to the skills crisis in businesses and ultimately help gear society up for the future.

We are the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been described as an era where the internet is entrenched in everything we do – so one of the most pressing matters resulting from it is the skills crisis, which is leaving some workers behind due to rapid technological changes in the workplace.

Indeed, Rometty believes that 100% of jobs will change in the era of AI and that productivity gains resulting from these technologies will create more jobs than they replace.

At present, the issue lies with businesses not having enough initiatives to help prepare workforce for these jobs - a 2017 survey demonstrated that 68% of graduates agree that the rapid rate of digital advancement to be the biggest challenge for businesses –  which in turn would allow us to benefit more from the prosperity that new technologies create.

If workers are not equipped accordingly, a US study estimated that the tech sector would lose $162 billion annually. A fully-integrated apprenticeship scheme might be just what’s needed!

Practicality over theory – and keeping up with the times

Since 2014, 56,200 workers have enrolled on higher and degree apprenticeships in the United Kingdom. Apprenticeships have long suffered from an association with lower-paid jobs or viewed as second class degrees.

However, Rommety in her Davos speech coined the term “new collar” jobs as a way to identify tech-based roles that are valuable in today's economy. Examples include titles such as a cloud technician, which doesn't require a four-year college degree or higher because the training is practical rather than theoretical, but is nonetheless likely to be valuable for years to come.

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Hans-Peter Uhrig, Senior Account Executive at Rocket Software oversees the company’s apprenticeship programme in Mannheim, Germany, confirms: ‘Apprenticeships provide practical skills to the next generation of employees that universities simply are not able to offer.

Training young minds from the bottom up allows them to learn and familiarise themselves with business processes. This in return enables them to understand and meet customer’s needs from the get-go. The benefits for a company are invaluable – it’s a win-win.’

Apprenticeships need to keep up with the times and skills – which in today’s environment have a 5-year shelf life – can be taught according to the constant evolving nature of the job role. A lot of academic teaching, by contrast, has not been adapted for years.

Take the example of the University of Manchester where a ‘post-crash economics society’ was formed to lobby for more appropriate teaching of economics that kept up with modern-day society rather than theories from 1920s.

Bridging the skills gap – and preparing for the future

It is obvious to all businesses that the technological world has developed at rapid speed, however the process of hiring employees at tech companies has barely changed.

There has been the rare exception such as Ernest & Young announcing in 2015 that it would no longer look at A-Level results or degrees when assessing potential candidates, but most tech companies fill their job posts with PHD graduates rather than apprentices who have spent four years learning practical skills on the job.

Instead, businesses must play their role in creating and promoting apprenticeship schemes if they are ever to bridge the skills gap. This contribution to future skills is the very thing that will keep the economy productive and competitive.

As our world becomes more digitised, we need our workforce to have the skills to make the most of the vast potential this offers. By offering apprenticeship schemes, tech companies have a crucial role to play in making this happen.

Guy Tweedale, regional VP at Rocket Software

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