Tech & Work

Businesses not hiring IT apprentices despite skills shortage claims

Despite claims the UK and US are in the grip of an IT skills shortage, the number of people being accepted for IT apprenticeships has fallen by one third - with fewer than one in 10 applicants securing places.

A perennial complaint is that businesses are suffering from a shortage of IT skills in both the UK and the US.

Earlier this year, a report by consultancy KPMG and the Recruitment Employment Confederation estimated demand for IT workers in the UK was at its highest point in 16 years.

To address the talent shortfall in IT and other industries the UK government has launched a scheme to encourage employers to create thousands of new apprenticeships.

However, the number of people securing IT apprenticeships has fallen by one third in the past year, according to official figures. While 13,060 people started IT apprenticeships in 2013/14, that number was down from 2011/12, when 19,520 students undertook such roles.

During a similar period the number of applications for IT apprenticeships almost trebled, from 48,350 in 2010/11 to 133,800 in 2013/14. There are more than 10 applicants for every IT apprenticeship, compared with 2.5 in 2010/11.

The number of IT apprenticeships awarded compared with the number of applications. Figures from the UK Skills Funding Agency

"The government has made apprenticeships a policy focus for a number of years, but despite us noticing an upward trend in the number of roles for IT contractors, the number of apprentices in the IT sector is on a worrying downward trend," said Simon Curry, CEO of SJD Accountancy.

"The UK tech sector has been one of the star performers of the economy in recent years and has created significant demand for fresh talent.

"It is therefore vitally important that we continue to bring young talent into the industry. The jump in apprenticeship applications shows that there is growing appetite among candidates for careers in ICT.

"The concern is that employers are not being provided with the right encouragement to take on and train young professionals."

In response to the low uptake, the government cited its investment in various schemes, as well as changes in regulations, aimed at encouraging firms to take on apprentices.

"We are committed to raising not just the number of apprenticeships, but also driving up quality, and have insisted that all apprenticeships are jobs, have a minimum duration of a year, include off the job training and meet the needs of employers," said a spokesman for the UK government's Skills Funding Agency.

The whole notion there is an IT skills shortage has been called into question in both the UK and the US, by commentators pointing out relatively high levels of unemployment among graduates who studied computing.

SJD Accountancy is hopeful employers maybe willing to take on more IT apprentices from April 2016, when the government will scrap employer contributions on earnings up to the upper limit for people aged 25 and under.

The firm also recommends government helps senior IT workers update their skills and increase their employability by making training a tax-deductable business expense.

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