Bringing new talent into the channel is an ongoing challenge. Comms Business talks to experts from across the industry about why apprenticeships can ensure the next generation thrives.

It is no secret that a talent gap persists across the technology sector in the UK. Bridging that gap will not happen overnight, with many talent and recruitment schemes needing to come together to collectively ensure there are enough people looking to build their careers in the sector. There are signs that the problem could be becoming further strained by the so-called “great retirement”.

As the labour market recovers from the pandemic, ONS data has revealed that a significant proportion of older workers are not returning to the workforce, with indications that the channel is being impacted by this.

The channel must bring in new talent if it is to thrive in the long-term, and one important element of this is apprenticeships. For Thea Tanner, commercial and propositions director, BT Wholesale, apprenticeships are invaluable both for the business internally, but also in regard to broader social responsibilities.

She said, “Apprenticeships are a great alternative for those who may not want to go to university. They provide hands-on practical experience whilst immersing school leavers into the world of work. Given the current economic climate and the reality of unemployment for many young people in the aftermath of Covid-19, apprenticeships can be invaluable and are much needed.

“With an ongoing skills gap within the channel, apprenticeship schemes are also beneficial to businesses, enabling them to fast-track new talent into integral roles.”

Long-term benefits

Whilst apprentices won’t be able to meet short-term talent gaps, the long-term benefits are clear. Kathleen Pai, chief people officer, N-able, highlighted the important role apprentices can play.

She said, “An apprenticeship programme is an important and valuable early-career talent strategy that helps companies build their talent pool by adding future [leaders] to the pipeline. It also gives students the opportunity to learn skills and build their own expertise, network, and forge industry relationships.

“While it is important to meet immediate talent needs, companies also need to plan long-term for the next generation of talent to help bolster success and innovation in the industry – apprenticeships are a key way to do that.”

Donna Bain, SVP, people and development, Westcon-Comstor, agreed with that long-term view. She said, “While developing an apprenticeship programme can certainly take time, the value of these schemes can stretch far into the future.”

Bain explained that apprentices must help the company deliver on its partner success priorities. As such, the business needs to recruit those who will be able to develop “best-in-class expertise and knowledge across our business divisions”.

She added, “While the skills shortage continues to be an issue for the UK channel, these programmes let employers focus on finding candidates that show the potential to develop the right skills and capabilities required in the future.”

The ability to use an apprenticeship programme to bring benefits to the wider community is another positive Bain has taken from Westcon-Comstor’s programme.

She said, “Apprenticeship schemes can also positively contribute to investment in local communities. Many young people struggle with a lack of guidance when it comes to pursuing the right career path for them, so apprenticeship schemes can provide much-needed mentorship and direction, making the experience extremely rewarding for the managers involved.”

Academic qualifications

It is also important to consider how apprenticeships have evolved in recent years. Jeanna Wenham, HR business partner, EMEA, 8x8, explained, “Apprenticeships have really changed over the years. What many people remember as apprenticeships are completely different now. The apprenticeships now include academic qualifications that are recognised globally.

“They range from GCSE up to a master’s degree apprenticeship. They are for new staff and existing staff and what is great is that apprentices earn-while-they-learn. The apprenticeship scheme is funded by the Apprenticeship Levy which pays for the courses.”

New talent

Wenham highlighted two compelling reasons channel companies should be thinking of developing an apprenticeship programme. She said, “Firstly, it’s an excellent opportunity to develop and upskill current employees. Secondly, they are great for recruiting entry level talent who relish the opportunity to work in a professional environment while learning and gaining a transferable skill.

“You can really mould the new talent into how you work. By recruiting new apprentices, you can also build your talent pipelines and the technical capabilities of the future. We are exceptionally proud of our apprentices. They bring new ideas and approaches to the business and have made a positive impact.”

Rob Stevens, operations director, Jola, added, “Jola has run a successful apprenticeship scheme for many years, allowing us to educate our new recruits on the needs of Jola partners and our unique products. Our team enjoy introducing new people to the channel, with a passion for customer service and developing their skills and experience.”

This is an extract from a feature that appeared in our February 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which brings together the apprenticeship community to celebrate everything that is amazing about apprenticeships. The theme for this year is 'Skills for Life'. You can find out more here.

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