Public Services > Central Government

Creating more IT Apprenticeships

Published 12 March 2015

In the UK National Week of Apprenticeships, Jos Creese, the new president of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, explains why he is supporting initiatives to grow IT apprenticeships that highlight the business impacts of IT


The UK economy depends increasingly on having a strong pool of technology professionals, and it's not just the IT industry itself that needs this, but pretty much every business and public service organisation, in any sector and of any size. We just can't seem to turn them out fast enough!

Of course, it's a global problem as demands for IT grow in the information age. But the UK, despite being a world leader in e-commerce and despite the strong encouragement from business and government, is arguably struggling more than others to grow the technology skills it needs. And it will only get worse as many of the early IT professionals are approaching retirement age.

Whilst there are plenty of jobs for experienced IT professionals, there are too few ways to get that experience in the first place, even if you have the training. The result is seen in high premiums paid for technical and digital professionals and this can place smaller businesses in particular, at a disadvantage. IT apprenticeships can offer experience on the job, as well as the skill training.

This is why, during my year as President of the BCS, I have chosen to encourage and to support initiatives that grow apprenticeships in IT, creating the next generation of IT professionals and BCS members. And this week is appropriate as I take up the BCS Presidency; it is also the UK National Week of Apprenticeships.

I want to work with partners in business and government to do this and to overcome the barriers which we know exist, shown for example by the significant under-representation of women and young people in IT.

The problem is not just getting support from government and business - which is happening (for example, BCS is already involved with the digital industry trailblazer apprenticeships and will later this year, together with the Gatsby Foundation, launch the Professional Registration of IT Technicians), it is also needs to address the myth that a career in IT is only about the technology - an engineering discipline looking after the IT 'plumbing'. This can turn off those with more enthusiasm and talent for the application of technology and who may be less excited about the technology 'nuts and bolts'.

This misperception of IT not only limits the attractiveness of the profession, but it also indirectly restricts the social and economic benefits which technology can bring. Many IT professionals have spoken to me of their frustration in the lack of understanding that some business leaders have of the risks and the opportunities of technology to truly transform organisations.

We also often seem to read more about IT project failure than about the skill involved in steering IT-enabled projects to success and so improving customer services, maximising competitiveness, increasing business agility and transforming public services. We need to do more to show how rich and varied IT jobs can be and the massive impact they have on business success.

The Government Digital Strategy highlights the digital imperative for the public sector as well, to drive efficiency and to engage better with the users of public services. Done well, this will not disenfranchise people or depersonalise services - far from it. But it needs smart digital leaders who understand the socio-economic impacts of IT, as well as deep technologists who will shape and design the next wave of technology in every sector.

I am delighted that BCS is already involved with the new Digital Industry Trailblazer apprenticeships and am looking forward to supporting this initiative. I would also like to see a range of new IT apprenticeships emerge which attract those excited by the business impacts of IT, as well as those enthused by gaining deep technical skills. This richer and deeper pool of new IT recruits will come from diverse backgrounds, able to blend business and technology expertise and experience - from schools, colleges, universities, those thinking of a career change or those returning to work after a career break. In fact any background.

IT apprenticeships in the UK can grow the next generation of IT professionals that we know we will so badly need over the next 20 years to compete in a digital world and to better harness technology for social well-being.

Jos Creese is President of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and interim chief digital officer and lead digital advisor for Hampshire County Council, moving from the CIO role he had held for a decade in 2014. With over 25 years IT management experience, Jos has held a number of CIO roles as well as a variety of non-executive director positions.

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