Building a skilled, loyal workforce

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP) and its partners talk to Comms Business about how this approach is helping the UK channel meet evolving needs.

The ITP launched its apprenticeship scheme in 2013 and in that time there has been a dramatic change in skills required in the job market. Crissi Williams (pictured below), CEO of the ITP, explained, “The skills gap was an issue back then, and even more so today. With government targets set for full fibre roll out, cyber and data breaches increasing and most of the world now effectively a remote workforce – the skills required in our sector are more vital than ever before.”

Williams pointed to the latest Open University Business Barometer which revealed 56 per cent of organisations are experiencing skills shortages, with organisations spending £6.6 billion to plug gaps this year. She added, “We see apprenticeships as playing a vital role in plugging this skills gap. It’s a win-win situation for employers who effectively build a trained, loyal workforce from the ground up.”

ITP has been helping firms make sense of the opportunity. Williams said, “We run a scheme on behalf of our partner organisations which takes care of everything from the recruitment, onboarding, training and development of apprentices. This take[s] away the administrative burden and headache that comes with it. We launched the scheme to give more smaller businesses access to apprenticeships, but now work with both small and large organisations. Our scheme is free to use, and we can advise and help you apply for government funding.”

Real world success  

One company that has got involved is Vorboss, an enterprise-focused fibre provider. Lauren Dutnall (pictured right), chief of staff at the company, said, “Recruiting on a large scale always comes with various challenges, in particular maintaining the company culture while adding many new faces to the team. As an organisation we embrace inclusion and diversity as we understand the value of having different perspectives and ideas and how this sets us up for success. This is where the ITP has become an invaluable partner by sourcing excellent apprentices who have great attitudes and are ready for a new challenge.”

Dutnall said Vorboss got involved with the apprentice scheme for a few reasons. “We recognise that apprentices bring a different perspective into the company and are really keen to learn. With any growing company, a hands-on approach is needed to excel and we find that’s exactly what apprentices bring. It’s essential that employees have knowledge of the business from the ground up and the apprentice programme gives them just that.”

The company’s first intake was a group of three that joined the company in November 2019. All three, Dutnall explained, are “working their way through the 18-month telecoms apprenticeship while gaining hands on experience and taking on vital roles in fibre installations across London”.

After great feedback from managers and the apprentices alike, an additional intake of three apprentices came onboard in September 2020 have been shadowing the fibre installations team and are starting to carry out their own install projects. The company also has an IT support apprentice who is now fully integrated into the IT and managed services team.

Hands-on learning

One of those apprentices at Vorboss is Aaron Thuraisingham. He explained, “At school, I knew that I wanted to go into a hands-on role as opposed to going to university to study. I would often look on different job sites for apprenticeships and luckily this is where I found my role.

“Apprenticeships are a great route to take into a career path as they allow you to gain a qualification and experience on the job training.”

ITP’s Williams explained that, whilst government support is ongoing, businesses should act now to benefit from increased funding available until the end of March. In addition to apprenticeship levy funding, £2,000 is available for apprentices age 16 to 24 and £1,500 for apprentices age 25 and over. An additional £1,000 payment is available to companies hiring an apprentice who is aged 16 to 18 years old or under 25 with an education, health and care plan or has been in the care of their local authority.

She added, “Whilst this is positive, much more still needs to be done to promote apprenticeships to employers and young people as a viable option. We believe that apprenticeships need to be promoted more widely in schools, particularly pushing STEM careers. We also want to educate employers on the benefits, and there is some great work being done – such as National Apprenticeship Week – to raise awareness, but we have a long way to go to get rid of the stigma of a ‘traditional apprenticeship’.”

There are plenty of resources available to the channel to make the most of the apprentice opportunity, and schemes run by the ITP can simplify the process even further. As Williams has shown, plugging skills gaps with short-term solutions could be much more costly long-term.

National Apprenticeship Week 2021 will take place from 8 to 14 February 2021. This year is the 14th annual celebration, and is themed around ‘Build the Future’. A toolkit to support the apprenticeship community is available here.

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Charlotte Hathway

Charlotte is the editor of Comms Business and writes content to inform and educate the Channel about the latest technology and business developments. Got a story? Get in touch – charlotte.hathway@markallengroup.com.

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