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5/3/2013
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U.K. Eyes Apprenticeships To Grow IT Talent

Public-private partnerships offer on-the-job IT training to unskilled youth, aiming to produce a new generation of IT talent.

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As the U.K. continues to try and figure out the best way to get more young people interested in an IT career, a possible solution seems to be emerging: apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships were once very much a part of the British manufacturing scene, involving school leavers committing to a set number of years with a particular employer who would train them in a chosen skill. But while the approach has remained favored in Germany, the idea more or less dwindled in lockstep with the U.K.'s deindustrialization in the 1980s.

Now, some stakeholders say it's time to bring apprenticeships back, with IT an ideal sector to try. Thus, the National Skills Academy for IT, training provider NITP and British telco giant BT have partnered to create 300-plus such placements for young people since October 2012 -- the vast majority of which are said to be with small and midsize business (SMB) employers. The partnership says it now plans to create 250 further apprenticeship roles in 2013.

The candidates get tech training, with quality assured by BT but delivered by NITP, at a network of 11 Further Education colleges across England, including Birmingham and Milton Keynes. This IT Gold Standard Apprenticeship is a new government-backed approach to workplace entry into the profession, designed to help the candidates settle into a job routine and gain technical and professional skills more quickly.

[ Want to learn more about the U.K.'s push to draw more youth into IT? Read U.K. Weighs Ways To Encourage IT Career Path. ]

One SMB participant, U.K. tech services firm EPOSability, has already recruited two apprentices through the partnership. Managing director Robbie Francis said, "Apprenticeships allow us to offer full-time employment to pre-vetted candidates. Investing in them will continue to play a role in our long-term future."

Businesses in the program get a grant from the government, but it's not that much -- only £1,500 ($2,300). So it seems there must be a genuine desire to home-grow talent the businesses say they can't get otherwise: "Quality apprenticeships help businesses grow their own talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce," said Peter Marples, director of NITP. "More and more organizations are starting to realize this."

Oxford-based Nominet, the not-for-profit organization best known for running the .uk Internet infrastructure, has recently set up a similar program to encourage local school leavers to consider a career in the "fast-growing areas of software and Internet infrastructure."

Lasting between 12 and 14 months, the Nominet technical apprentice roles claim to offer high-quality external learning and on-the-job training. The aspiring IT folk will work alongside technical teams, a line manager and a workplace mentor on "real-world projects part of everyday operations" at their trainer. Grading will be based on a mixture of modular examinations and workplace assessments.

"The U.K. needs IT skills more than ever as we tackle some of the great technology challenges of our age," Simon McCalla, Nominet CTO, told InformationWeek. "We need programmers, app designers, analysts and security experts to work on building better cloud services, writing next-generation mobile computing applications and, importantly, tackling the challenges of cybersecurity and cybercrime."

His colleague Gill Crowther, HR director at Nominet, added, "[The British IT] industry needs to work together with education and government to help inspire and cultivate young people's interest in technology -- and persuade them that working in IT can be exciting, challenging and rewarding."

Two tech experts square off. A CIO compares working without IT standards to anarchy, while a CTO claims that standardization stalls creativity. Also in the new, all-digital The Standardization Debate issue of Network Computing: Next-gen data centers and the politics of standards. (Free registration required.)

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