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Digital apprenticeships are booming but companies must focus on quality, says Microsoft UK director

Apprenticeships are transforming young people’s lives across the UK but companies must continue to focus on quality over quantity, a director at Microsoft UK has said.

The technology company held an event at the House of Commons recently, attended by Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds MP, to unveil research on the impact of its own apprenticeship programme.

In the past 10 years, Microsoft and its partners have delivered 20,000 apprenticeships, with 10,000 more planned by 2020. The study, which was comprised of interviews and online surveys, found that as well as providing valuable skills and experience to those enrolled in apprenticeships there were also substantial benefits for businesses, too. Employers reported a £36,840 uplift as a direct result of taking on apprentices, up from £11,782 in 2015.

Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK, said that as the popularity of digital apprenticeships continued to grow, it was important they gave young people valuable skills they could use.

“When Microsoft launched its apprenticeship programme in 2010 there was a quiet confidence that it would achieve great things,” he said at the London event. “Nearly a decade later, and with over 20,000 apprenticeship starts, delivered by Microsoft Learning Partners, that quiet confidence has become something to shout about.

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microsoft Research

“Digital apprenticeships buck the general trend that has seen a drop in starts. The Government’s October 2018 figures show that apprenticeship starts were 15% lower than the corresponding period in 2016. These same figures, though, showed digital apprenticeships increasing by 21%. However, it is crucial that we are not drawn into a numbers game. Digital apprenticeships provide highly relevant skills in a digital world that benefit both the apprentice and the employer. The emphasis must be on quality over quantity.”

Hinds agreed, adding that apprenticeships were a great way for the UK to build a skilled workforce for the future.

“It was a pleasure to attend Microsoft’s National Apprenticeship Week event and have the chance to chat with their apprentices and staff,” he said. “The great work that Microsoft have been doing shows how we’ve transformed apprenticeships in this country, working hand in hand with businesses to create high-quality apprenticeship opportunities so that more young people can get a good job and progress in their careers. Apprenticeships are a great way for employers to get the skilled workforce they need and help us build the workforce the country needs for the future.”

Microsoft’s apprenticeships teach youngsters digital skills such as coding, cloud computing and IT, and are delivered via partners such as QA, Intequal and Firebrand, as well as customers.

According to Microsoft’s research, apprentices see their programme as a way to learn new skills and drive social mobility – 42% come from lower social class backgrounds – as well as an opportunity for personal development. More than half are attracted to Microsoft’s apprenticeships because of the company’s reputation in the sector, with 64% saying they liked the distinctiveness of the programme.

Damian Hinds MP (left) and Hugh Milward, Director or Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK

Damian Hinds MP (left) and Hugh Milward, Director or Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK

Apprentices estimated that they earn 31% more every year because of their programme, equating to approximately £5,200 more in annual salary. Seven-in-10 also say their apprenticeship will help them achieve a higher socio-economic status than their parents and puts them on the right track to buy a house.

Chyanne Mwangi, an apprentice at Microsoft, said: “I didn’t think university was the right route for me, so I started looking at apprenticeships. I wanted a role in marketing, and I saw that the Microsoft apprenticeship would give me a professional qualification, experience and a certificate in coding. It is giving me all the skills I need to progress in life.”

Employers, meanwhile, no longer see apprenticeships as a way to simply attract young people in a cost-efficient way, the research revealed. Companies now describe them as creating value for themselves and their industry. Employers mentioned a more diverse workforce as a key outcome of the programme, and better productivity.

Businesses are also placing less emphasis on finding people to fit the company culture (29%, down 18 percentage points from 2015) and are now looking to bring in more flexible employees (33%, up eight percentage points from 2015).

Chris Dunning, founder of cloud computing consultancy Tech Quarters, said: “To grow your business you need apprentices. We saw that our apprentices were really performing well after just three months; I saw them grow through the business and some are now on my operational team and are managers. The quality of the apprentices has been astounding.”