Scotland Needs to Embrace IT and Digital Apprenticeships

Cortex Apprentices

To help bridge the growing skills gap in Scotland more apprenticeships are needed. DIGIT met Cortex’s latest group of apprentices to find out why this alternative career route deserves greater recognition.

Recent research by PwC has indicated that if Scotland had the same uptake of apprenticeships as Germany, it would see economic output increase by around £3.2 billion.

Scotland is renowned for its high-calibre university graduates, which makes it a great place to start and own a business, however, it is a common misconception that full-time university is the only route into a successful career.

Both businesses and school leavers have yet to fully realise the untapped potential of digital apprenticeships as a route into the tech industry. Often people do not realise that many apprenticeships are funded or that you can do highly specialised ones while studying for a degree. If you enroll in the right apprenticeship it can fast-track your career as an IT professional.

Apprenticeships Will Help Narrow the Skills Gap

In the latest Scottish budget, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) plans to deliver 30,000 new apprenticeships by 2020. Claire Gillespie, key sector manager for digital skills at SDS told DIGIT: “Research suggests Scotland’s tech sector needs up to 12,800 new entrants into digital technology professions each year and apprentices are hugely important if we are to tackle this skills gap properly.”

88% of apprentice employers say that apprentices are important to their business and workforce development and three quarters say apprentices improved productivity. Nine out of ten employers would recommend apprentices to their industry.”

Minister for Employability and Training Jamie Hepburn said: “Apprenticeships are life changing opportunities – providing the chance, not only to work and earn, but also to achieve an industry recognised qualification to support future career ambitions.”

Apprenticeships Important to Scotland’s Digital Sector

Country Manager at Microsoft Scotland, Steven Grier told DIGIT: “The evolution of Modern Apprenticeships as a key part of the early-in-career family of roles has been hugely exciting for Microsoft, Partners and Customers, with the evidence suggesting they are already having a massive positive impact on the business landscape of Scotland.”

“The technology industry in particular has a growing skills gap and the apprenticeships family of roles are absolutely vital in helping us plug that gap and then, more importantly, moving beyond that to helping Scotland realise its huge potential as a world leading Digital nation.”

DIGIT Meets Cortex’s Tech Apprentices

Cortex, an Edinburgh based digital solutions company, has been a strong supporter and advocate of Graduate Apprentices (GA). DIGIT had the opportunity to interview the current cohort; Rowan Whitton (IT Management for Business), Mark Mackay (Cyber Security) and Monica Richardson (Software Development).

In this interview we learn more about their journey, dispel misconceptions and get an inside look at what taking on an apprenticeship is really like. Cortex’s CEO and Founder Peter Proud and Technical Director Mark Rodger along with Scott Killen, Employer Liaison and Recruitment Manager at Edinburgh Napier University were also on hand to answer DIGIT’s questions.

DIGIT: Why did you chose to do an apprenticeship?

Rowan: Initially I went to university but while there I discovered I was more interested in programming and wanted to just focus on that. I dropped out and found an apprenticeship that would let me specialise in that.

Mark: At 19 I joined the RAF and was there for eight years, upon leaving I didn’t want to go down the typical post RAF route into security. An apprenticeship was a good option for me to retrain.

Monica: Like Rowan I went to university but felt it wasn’t working for me. I still wanted qualifications and to continue learning so I decided to do an apprenticeship with Edinburgh Council. However, I realised I was more interested in IT and the council facilitated me moving to Cortex.

DIGIT: What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

Peter: In conjunction with their degree and working full time they are also getting additional significant qualifications. For example, Rowan passed his Microsoft Certified Professional, which is a tough exam. He will probably be the most qualified 22-year-old graduate. Additionally, apprenticeships are paid and funded, so they aren’t going to rack up student debt.

Scott: Apprentices gain industry knowledge, which benefits them in their studies, good balance between work and further education. There is no maximum age for a GA, which means it opens up new routes to make a career change at any stage.

Monica: My work colleagues are highly qualified industry experts who’ve worked at big companies such as Microsoft, they provide me with guidance and help, a real benefit when it comes to doing coursework. To be surrounded by that every day is a real advantage.

Mark: We had a head start on some of our modules because of the stuff we were doing in the office.

Rowan: Getting exposure to the industry is important, you get to sample lots of different aspects of the business, which lets you figure out what it is you want to do before you commit to one path.

DIGIT: Was it easy for you to get advice and information about becoming an apprentice?

Rowan: I found it lacking, there was more about going to university.

Monica: I wish I had known about apprenticeships sooner, it would have been a game-changer. At high school if you did well and were ambitious then it was pitched that full-time university was the only option open to you.

DIGIT: How do you balance work and studies?

Rowan: It comes down to good time management.

Monica: When you’re doing something you love, it becomes much easier. Each day you are fully immersed in the subject at work so you are constantly learning between classes.

DIGIT: Has the apprenticeship given you more confidence in your skills?

Monica: I have more confidence about my ability than I did when I was a full-time student. I get to put my skills to use everyday in the real world.

DIGIT: Should more people be doing apprenticeships?

Rowan: I’ve been down both paths and have an experience from both sides. For me the apprenticeship was the right choice, but other people have different learning styles and might prefer the traditional way.

Monica: I think if you aren’t enjoying your full-time course then you should consider the apprenticeship route.

Scott: The apprentices have a day a week at university and they bring back with them so much industry knowledge. It helps them with their studies.

DIGIT: Do you feel there is a negative stigma around apprenticeships?

Rowan: When I dropped out it was a big step and there was a stigma but there shouldn’t be because at the end of this I will have a degree, Microsoft qualifications, and real work experience.

Mark: I’d always thought apprenticeships were only for tradesmen, I’d never heard of modern apprenticeships in IT, but jumped at the chance when I learned about it.

Peter: I would like to see the stigma removed, it shouldn’t be viewed as a second option but as a viable route in its own right. People who have embraced the apprenticeship path have been very successful with it.

Scott: Parents need to know more about apprenticeships and that university isn’t the only option. Historically there has been so much pressure to get the right Highers and then go on to university, we hope the image of apprenticeships changes.

DIGIT: What does a business get from taking on apprentices?

Mark Rodger: To take on apprentices was an easy business decision. Myself and Peter are both ex-apprentices and know the value of it. It provides us a solid talent pipeline and we get an idea of peoples’ potential, this helps us find the right people.

Peter: It’s great to get energy from the young apprentices coming into the office. The industry really needs to wake up to the potential of apprenticeships. They pay for themselves by doing real client work and contribute a lot to our business.

Scott: Many of our programmes are funded so an SME can use the apprenticeship programme to up-skill or expand their workforce.

More information on Apprenticeships

GAs at Edinburgh Napier University, like Mark, Rowan and Monica, spend four days a week in work full-time and one day a week in university, reducing to one day per month in the latter half of the courses. These programmes have been created and developed in partnership with SDS with support from the European Social Fund.

There is no maximum age limit, so anyone over the age of 16 who resides in Scotland is eligible and there are no course fees to pay for apprentices or employers. Qualification for entry can be based on both academic and relevant work experience, and employers can either hire new recruits or up-skill existing staff.

To look for an apprenticeship or advertise a vacancy please visit Apprenticeships.Scot.



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