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Apprenticeships driving tech

Sarah Henley

Britain is a global hub for technical innovation and creativity – and apprentices have long been a great way to nurture talent in almost any industry you can think of. Contributor Sarah Henley, HR Director – EE.

Yet, in January, official figures highlighted a significant drop in the number of new apprentice sign-ups. This, combined with frequent reports of a digital skills gap in the UK suggests that companies may struggle to find, let alone attract, the skilled workforce they need to meet their current demands.

With innovation underpinning the success top brands from a range of sectors in UK plc – including telecoms, technology, finance, logistics & supply chain, hospitality and healthcare –  it is vital that UK companies help to produce a workforce with the talent and skills necessary to help drive their industries forward and continue to highlight Britain as a digital leader.

Innovation is at the heart of everything we do – whether that’s building the UK’s most advanced 4G network that provides coverage in more places than any other, or launching a number of industry firsts designed to keep our customers connected – from superfast home broadband over innovative external antenna’s, or helping to develop and define what 5G will look like in the UK.

Government initiatives like the introduction of last year’s Apprenticeship Levy go a long way in enabling young people leaving school to gain the skillset required to help UK plc plug this skills gap. Apprenticeships remain one of the most viable routes to employment for many young adults. Unlike with classroom work, apprentices are able to benefit from regular on-the-job training, helping while initiating their career and earning.

For us, apprenticeships are a positive strategy to bring new talent and fresh ideas into the business, so we’re always looking to find enthusiastic and talented people to join our team. In 2017, we invested in over 465 apprentices across the UK. Since launching our apprenticeship scheme in 2012, our apprentices have benefited from the unique advantage of providing participants with the opportunity to not only to gain valuable work experience and skills, but to study towards nationally recognised qualifications.

We want to help wherever we can, by bringing in apprentices at all levels – from Level 2 through to Level 6 qualifications throughout our company and are building our plans for the next few years. We will also continue with the L2 apprenticeship programme into our Contact Centre Operations. All this can be done whilst earning a full apprentice salary, helping support participants financially during their training and making the pathway a truly viable alternative to university study. Our commitment to apprentices and to on-the-job skills development is part of what makes us the Sunday Times Best Big Company to Work For.

Aside from great training and support from their line managers, apprentices get training from a range of other departments, from technical contact centre agents and human resources to our incredible network team. This helps provide our new joiners with valuable insight into the wider business and a clear understanding of the opportunities available outside of their current roles. I know that it can also help in deciding which career path they would like to pursue after their apprenticeship.

For individuals, this access to insight from across the business opens up doors and offers them the best possible chance to fulfil their potential. From a business perspective, this level of investment not only provides new hires with a great sense of the culture of the business, but, by being able to see operations across the business, they’re best placed to decide exactly where they feel their specialism lies and can easily transfer over to another department if that’s where their passion is.

Of course, monthly reviews and tailor-built personal development plans are the key to meeting an apprentice’s requirements, but putting a heavy focus on apprenticeships as a means of hiring new talent gives more control to any company. You can consider and tailor the course with your business’ goals in mind while equipping them with skills that will support them throughout their career.

One of the great things about initiatives like the apprenticeship levy is that it offers opportunities to modernise the digital skillsets of older workers. We’re noticing that existing workers (rather than school leavers) are taking up apprenticeships with increasing frequency. This represents an important shift in the way people are thinking about these schemes – no longer are they viewed as a lesser-qualification, but rather a direct alternative to university (or in some instances a successor to it).

Apprenticeships offer people a great opportunity to kick-start their careers, while also bringing passion and new ways of thinking into the business. We know it’s the fresh apprentice talent we bring on board now who will build on our success in the years to come, and we’re looking forward to welcoming many more apprentices into EE in the future.

We believe in giving the UK the best network and best service so that our customers trust us with their digital lives, but to do this we need to put our people first.

I encourage all leaders to take the time to understand the scheme to ensure that your business – big or small – gets the best value from it. Giving the next generation of talent the very best start in their careers is vital not only for participating candidates, but also in helping UK companies to meet the challenges faced by a growing skills gap. If Britain is to remain a leader in technology, it will need the support of a talented and skilled workforce. At EE we believe that the best way to achieve this is through apprenticeship and training programmes.

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