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Want to be the next Steve Jobs? Become an apprentice…

The tech industry is increasingly looking to apprenticeships rather than graduates – but teachers and parents haven’t caught up, writes Euan Blair

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The tech industry is increasingly looking to apprenticeships rather than graduates – but teachers and parents haven’t caught up, writes Euan Blair

At WhiteHat, we are obsessed with transforming people’s perceptions of apprenticeships by offering aspirational opportunities that launch careers. So we are delighted to be working with Google on their first ever apprenticeships in software engineering, partnering with Ada, the National College for Digital Skills.

This is the kind of opportunity that can help someone embark upon a long and exciting career in a field where there is strong and growing demand for talent, and sits alongside the digital marketing apprenticeship that Google has been running for four years.

Google, a company that remains engineer-led, is one of the best places an aspiring developer could start their career. They will have access to some of the smartest, most highly skilled engineers and product managers around – and they will be in high demand for the foreseeable future, whether they remain at Google or pursue careers elsewhere.

This is the first stage of what we hope will become an expanded apprenticeship programme at Google. Other leading tech firms are following suit. More and more opportunities are being created at the kind of employers that any Oxbridge graduate would jump at, but targeted exclusively at apprentices.

Good for the country

It is a particularly persuasive proposition in the tech sector, where so many of the most successful entrepreneurs were either university dropouts or self-taught in their field: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs, to name a few.

This trend is a fundamentally good thing for the country. The benefits of this type of apprenticeship are not confined to the employer and the apprentice.

In an environment where employers feel schools and universities are increasingly unable to equip those leaving the system with the skills and competencies they need to excel in a work environment, these apprenticeships are addressing a need in our economy.

We cannot import enough tech talent to fill the UK-wide demand – and we’re not producing enough native engineers. Schemes like these are a perfect example of the positive ripple effect that apprenticeships can have, far beyond those they are immediately affecting.

Post-18 revolution

But more needs to be done to raise awareness around the careers that an apprenticeship can offer, particularly in the tech and professional services sectors.

It’s no longer the case that in order to work in high-powered jobs at top tech, finance, law, or media firms you need to go to university. We are in the midst of a revolution in how the post-18 education landscape operates – yet this societal shift is barely known or understood.

We are quickly moving towards a system where top careers are no longer the preserve of those who have gone to elite universities, but are attainable to those who have decided not to pursue the academic route. A combination of increasing university fees, a renewed government focus on skills in the form of the apprenticeship levy and T levels and employer demand is accelerating this change at a faster pace than any of us imagined.

It is not confined to the UK, either. Last year, Donald Trump expanded the nascent US apprenticeship programme and Emmanuel Macron introduced reforms for a “German-style” apprenticeship system in France.

Crucial role

The fact that we at WhiteHat are able to offer apprenticeships with employers such as Google, Warner Bros and Mischon de Reya, not to mention a wide range of startups and smaller businesses, is proof that they are resonating with employers.

The huge volume of applications we receive every week, combined with the largest fall in university applications for years, shows that people are increasingly convinced.

But the message is not yet being communicated effectively to parents and teachers, who play such a crucial role in the decision-making process. Supporting teachers to provide effective advice about career pathways will help – and the work the Careers and Enterprise Company and Youth Employment UK are doing in this field is highly valuable.

The case shouldn’t be a difficult one to make. The right apprenticeship launches an exceptional career and provides a skillset that will virtually guarantee them employment for the next decade. If the opportunity at Google creates a burgeoning awareness among this group, it will be a milestone on the path to a fully embedded and equally respected technical alternative to university in the UK.

Euan Blair is CEO and founder of WhiteHat

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