The UK is hoping a new wave of apprenticeships can offer young people a better route into the tech industry - and provide companies with the skills they need.
The number of IT apprenticeships has increased rapidly: nearly 24,000 people have started an IT apprenticeship in the past two years, almost double the number in the previous two years, while there are currently over 700 live vacancies for IT apprenticeships available through the National Apprenticeship Service.
Employers have long been critical of the skills of IT graduates and have been demanding more business-ready recruits: IT apprenticeships - which offer a job combined with a skills development programme designed by the employer – may be one way to solve the issue. Government funding covers the cost of training so employers only have to pay wages.
But while the focus on tech apprenticeships is laudable, it's also in part the industry making up for its past mistakes. The offshoring of so many entry level and junior tech jobs over the last decade by companies keen to slash their IT costs means there were fewer ways for young people to get a start in the industry.
This has a knock-on effect; a lack of junior roles means fewer staff to fill senior tech roles down the line. As one senior industry figure told TechRepublic last year: "As a collective industry, we let it go too far."
The type of work apprentices will do depends on the level of the apprenticeship. For example an intermediate level apprenticeship might include work on a helpdesk while a higher apprenticeship would expose them to life as a project manager.
Tech companies are promoting this route into the industry as part of the UK's national apprenticeship week. Karen Price, CEO of tech industry body e-skills UK said: "Employers are telling us that apprenticeships have a critical role to play in building the sustainable talent pipeline which is so urgently needed to ensure the UK's global leadership in tech innovation."
Clive Selley, chief executive of BT's technology, service and operations said there is a danger that not enough people in the UK are getting the training they need to work in research, development and innovative new industries.
As a result the telecoms giant plans to offer 730 apprenticeships to school and college leavers in the areas of engineering, software design, IT support, finance and logistics. It has also created a 'digital media technology apprenticeship' aimed at giving new recruits experience of web development, networking and digital media distribution.
BT also plans to offer 1,500 vocational training and work experience placements for unemployed 18 to 24 year olds over the next 18 months, and is hiring 300 new graduates.A large number of BT's graduate and apprentice intake will be based at BT's research campus at Adastral Park, near Ipswich in Suffolk.
Technology services company Fujitsu currently has 130 apprentices employed by the business in intermediate and advanced apprenticeships.
The company said while it is also hiring graduates there are too few science, technology, engineering or maths grads to meet demand, and so is investing more in apprentices, and is planning to fund 14 apprentices through higher apprenticeships, the equivalent to a degree.
Apprenticeships may also help address the ongoing gender gaps in tech as 29 percent of current apprentices at Fujitsu are female – 19 percent higher than the industry average.
Tech companies including Accenture, BT, Capgemini, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft are also working on a pilot of new apprenticeship standards in software development and networking which could be in place before the end of the year.
- Offshoring has fuelled IT skills crisis, say UK firms
- IT skills crisis - is it over for good?
- Is the tech skills crisis just a myth?
Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.