Tech boss backs apprenticeships to bridge skills gap

Article date: Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:55 GMT

UKFast CEO Lawrence Jones Apprenticeships

Tech entrepreneur Lawrence Jones MBE is calling for an attitude shift towards apprenticeships to remove negative stigma once and for all, as the firm reveals it has doubled its apprentice cohort target.

Whilst many businesses are now beginning to see the benefits of apprenticeship schemes, many families are still focussed on university as an end goal, something that Jones thinks needs to change to prevent the digital skills gap widening.

Jones said: "I set myself the goal of recruiting 40 new programmers by June and another goal of expanding the apprenticeship program. We're confident about how successful our apprenticeship programme is so we merged the two goals.

"There's only so much you can learn in university in some subjects. University is of course the right path for many professions, but apprenticeships can offer the kind of specific skill sets that many innovative businesses are looking for. Successive governments have put huge emphasis on higher education, leaving apprenticeships in the shadows, but striking the right balance between the two will help us bridge the skills gap and help our economy grow.

"We have a better success rate in training apprentices than we have with university graduates, who come out of uni not knowing what they want to do and stressed about the amount of debt they've taken on. We're seeing signs of universities working with us to create more cutting-edge skills but we're some way off all universities living up to that. It's difficult to justify paying people more when they know less.

"The young people in our apprenticeship programme are an incredible asset to our business and to the wider community. It is our responsibility to create these attractive apprenticeship programmes and to educate both the school-leavers and parents about alternative paths to university. National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect opportunity to do that.

"Universities will have to work harder to create cutting-edge curriculums as employers are finding that they have to retrain university graduates when they arrive in industry. At the moment I'd take and IT apprentice any day of the week over someone at university that had done a course that wasn't honed in.

"I believe that we need to find a balance between university graduates and school leavers coming into businesses to bridge the much-talked-about skills gap. Too many of one or the other will not give us the skills that are necessary to see Britain's digital industry and its economy to grow."

UKFast earlier this year offered places on its newly expanded apprenticeship scheme to 37 apprentices affected by the closure of Bright Future. The fast-growing firm has been rated a Top 100 Apprentice Employer and is a National Apprenticeship Service Ambassador.

"The situation with Bright Future certainly accelerated the process, but we were looking to grow the UKFast apprenticeship program anyway. We've had incredible results within our business with apprentices," said Jones.

Jones welcomes the government's initiative to get 3 million people into apprenticeships by 2020 and claims that apprentices can add huge value to any business.

"I'd recommend any businesses considering taking on apprentices to just go for it. Youth and the energy young people bring to an organisation is one of the most important ingredients in a successful growing business. Alex Ferguson always had a youth team to keep the first team on its toes. Great leaders make succession planning a priority."

UKFast boasts a £4.5 million training facility at its campus headquarters in Manchester and employs five full-time teachers in an effort to improve digital training in the city.

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