Figures released by the Department for Education show that uptake of apprenticeships has fallen overall, but an encouraging exception sees IT apprenticeships buck the trend. Nationwide, the number of students beginning apprenticeships in the first two quarters of the 2017/18 academic year has dropped by 30% compared to a year earlier, for digital IT apprenticeships the numbers are up.

The surge in learners for IT is so huge that numbers signing up have reached 84% of 2016/17’s total in just the first half of the current year. For John Pritchard, head of apprenticeships at BCS, the chartered institute for IT, this could represent a closing of the much-discussed STEM skills gap: “Despite the doom and gloom around the overall numbers, digital IT apprenticeships are hugely in demand, both by employers and apprentices,” he said. “This is great news. It means apprenticeships are working for employers and apprentices alike.”

It’s even possible that the skills gap is helping to encourage uptake of IT courses, since young people can be confident that there is work available for them after their training. Mr Pritchard is keen to point out the sector’s success in retention, saying: “there is an assumption that in general, many apprentices don’t stay or complete – and therefore apprenticeships aren’t working. However, digital IT apprenticeships are bucking this trend, our training providers are reporting 90% are staying on with their employers once they finish their course which de-bunks this assumption. Digital IT apprentices are sought after and in demand, and there are real opportunities for them in the market place proving the scheme is and will continue to be a success.”

While most IT pros still enter the industry as university graduates, a growing number are finding the apprenticeship route more to their taste. One key driver for this trend is the work-based learning that apprenticeships offer, meaning that young people can earn as they study and offering a stark contrast with increased university tuition fees. The system also provides a ladder of qualifications ranging from post-16 entry level to master’s degrees, indeed according to BCS the government’s statistics do not include a further 3,000 apprenticeships studying at degree level. IT becomes particularly attractive to career-minded trainees because of the spread of computing to power almost every industry.

It will take years of increased uptake and retention across the STEM industries to close the skills gap, but the trend in IT shows that there is hope of success. Mr Pritchard certainly thinks that IT apprenticeships are a key part of achieving this goal: “In the digital space, where we will see so many of the future jobs appearing, apprenticeships offer a progression route from entry to Masters level which will enable career paths with true technical competence and professional recognition, and which, importantly are open to all.”

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