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We had a small but varied group comprised of people who had been apprentices, ones offering degree courses, and those with experience of recruiting graduates. Lead Discussants were Bob Clift of the Technical Partnership and Claire Ruskin of the Cambridge Network. Arcus Global sponsored the meeting and the key points of Digital Apprenticeships (DAs) were explained by Anglia Ruskin University which kindly provided the venue.
What are Digital Apprentices?
Adults of any age can apply to a company for a position as a Digital Apprentice. The company then makes them an offer that is contingent on acceptance by the academic institution that will award the degree. For the next four years, the apprentice spends most of their time working in the company which pays them a basic salary. They are allowed time to work on their degree but much of the degree will be done via online tutorials and homework. There is typically a week of 30 hours of tuition at the academic institution at the start of each trimester. A lot of emphasis is placed on the project in their final year which is agreed between the university, the company and the student.
Technical Skills are in Short Supply
We noted that recruitment adverts almost always require ‘a good degree from a good university’ and that there is a shortage of technical skills yet Computer Science Graduates struggle to find jobs (11% are unemployed 6 months after graduation whereas the national average for graduates is 6%). There was a general feeling that graduates rarely have useful technical skills and often have both unrealistically high expectations of their value and a lack of the soft skills, particularly confidence, needed to operate effectively at work. Most of the people with degrees commented that they had learnt little that was practically useful at university.
What do DA’s Resolve?
DAs appear to resolve three of the key issues of tertiary education:
The Difference between Apprenticeships and Degrees
A comment was made that ‘Apprenticeship prepares you for a job and a degree prepares you for a career’ – will people with DAs miss-out on some of the maturity and broader vision that was traditionally provided by a degree?
There were two counter-arguments to this: firstly that the Internet, immigration and cheap foreign travel have provided most people with a much better sense of perspective and the world around them than was available to their parents; secondly that students on part-time courses are renown for being more mature than full-time students.
DAs also offer a way into careers for people who failed to gain appropriate qualifications at school or who are wanting to rejoin the workforce or change career. These courses can help to connect students or returning mothers with jobs which is something that traditional careers guidance often fails to do.
DA’s are not Without Challenges
One of the issues with a DA is that it takes a number of years to complete but people increasingly change both jobs and careers and have a need for more rapid re-skilling.
We discussed the case of a three-month intensive data science training course provided by one employer that offers candidates who complete it permanent employment at the end. There is no set of experience or qualifications required for the course but the candidates must pass a special assessment. This tailored approach works well for companies with the size, scale and need for it but, for SMEs and more general requirements, Degree Apprenticeships offer an interesting way forwards.
We enjoyed a lively discussion and clearly there are lots of opportunities both for candidates and employers from Digital Apprentices. At Arcus we are actively exploring the ways in which we can work to employ Digital Apprentices as part of our growing team.