Why apprenticeships can be the springboard for our AI-powered future needs

3 minute read

Apprenticeship programmes are not just a solution to the talent shortage but a strategic investment in the future of young people, technology and business, says Aaron Harris, chief technology officer at Sage. He explains how Sage is engaging with apprenticeships and why other businesses should follow suit

A diverse group of school age children in a science room working with robotic arms, AI and other digital media

As we move towards an increasingly AI-powered future, the demand for skilled workers in technology fields is on the rise. As a chief technology officer, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of AI in business. From streamlining operations to enabling predictive analytics, AI-powered tools are redefining what it means to be competitive in the digital age. 

However, the core of these advancements lies not within the code itself but in the minds that craft it and traditional education paths may not always be the best fit for those looking to break into these fields. The need for skilled people has skyrocketed in recent years and businesses across the spectrum are grappling with a pressing challenge – the tech talent shortage.

This gap is not merely a hiccup but a significant barrier to harnessing the full potential of technological advancements, especially in the UK – in fact, research shows that staff in 88% of British businesses are lacking in at least one area of digital skills. Within this landscape of need and opportunity apprenticeship schemes emerge as a tool to bridge this gap by cultivating the next generation of tech talent.

The need for young talent

As businesses show increasing levels of resilience to navigate the external landscape they operate within, the demand for skilled tech talent has also evolved. This underscores the critical need to nurture a pipeline of tech talent, beginning not at the boardroom table but in the classroom. Initiatives aimed at engaging pupils as young as eight in the wonders of technology are more than just educational activities; they are the future of business success. By igniting a passion for technology early on, we can ensure a continuous flow of talent into the tech sector, ready and eager to take on the challenges of tomorrow. We do this very successfully with the Institute of Engineering and Technology in the UK and our interactive STEM learning via the FIRST© LEGO© League.

In recent years we've also witnessed a rising demand for digital-based apprenticeships. According to the latest data from The Chartered Institute for IT and UCAS, for example, there has been a 27% year-on-year increase of its final assessment of IT apprenticeships, reflecting a growing recognition of the value in fostering the next generation of tech professionals.

Furthermore, digital apprenticeships offer a unique blend of learning and hands-on experience, enabling apprentices to immerse themselves in real-world tech environments. This approach not only accelerates their learning curve but also embeds them within the fabric of the tech community, building networks and fostering a sense of belonging in the ecosystem.

The value of apprenticeships

Here at Sage we have embraced the potential of apprenticeships to cultivate tech talent, supporting over 600 in the North East alone, in recognition of the need to bridge the UK’s tech talent shortage. Elsewhere, Sage has also partnered with Teens in AI, an initiative which inspires teens to explore a future in tech and AI through hands-on learning experiences. The programme aims to break down barriers across a wide spectrum, ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background, has the opportunity to participate and excel in the evolving world of technology. Through our partnerships with local universities and initiatives like Teens in AI, we are not just aiming to contribute to the tech talent pipeline, but to also actively shape the future of tech-powered business.

However, it's not just up to companies like Sage to invest in apprenticeships. All businesses across the UK must recognise the value of apprenticeships. Engaging with apprenticeship programmes is not merely a solution to the talent shortage but a strategic investment in the future of young people, technology and business. It's time for businesses to recognise the value of apprenticeships and make a concerted effort to engage with apprenticeship programmes.

The way forward for businesses

To truly extract value from apprenticeships businesses should look to partner with local universities and colleges to create apprenticeship programmes that align with their specific needs. They should also consider offering incentives to apprentices, such as mentorship opportunities, networking events and career development programmes. By making these investments businesses can help to cultivate the next generation of tech talent while also creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. 

The challenge of bridging the tech talent gap has never been more imperative. This narrative is not just a story of challenges, but also of opportunities for businesses, educational institutions and individuals to come together and forge a future rich in new and innovative expertise.

So where does that leave us? The message is clear: the time to act is now. Engage with apprenticeship schemes, foster partnerships that support tech education and advocate for policies that encourage innovation and learning. Together, we can transform the challenge of the tech talent shortage into a stepping stone for the next generation of innovators, ensuring that the UK's tech sector continues to thrive and lead on the global stage.

Aaron Harris, pictured below, is chief technology officer at Sage

Aaron Harris, chief technology officer at Sage

Published 9 April 2024
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