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Diverse digital apprentices: fuelling your business future

Category: Degree apprenticeships

4 October 2023

Softwerx apprentice at google's women in tech

The UK's tech sector faces a severe shortage of digital skills, with 68% of employers struggling to find technical talent. Softwerx, in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University, has successfully implemented a diverse degree apprenticeship program, integrating overlooked talent pools such as women, minorities, and neurodiverse individuals. This cost-effective initiative not only addresses the skills gap but also fosters inclusivity, making it a strategic solution for businesses looking to thrive in the tech industry.

Fuel your business future with diverse degree apprentices

The booming tech sector in the UK is experiencing a bottleneck in the form of chronic digital skills shortage. Recent Chartered Institute of Professional Development research reveals that 68% of UK employers struggle to hire for technical skills, yet just 32% have conducted a strategic workforce planning exercise.

And the problem is compounded by workforce structure. UK Government statistics confirm two-thirds of the workforce is employed by SMEs and startups – businesses that often can’t afford expensive learning and development subscription services.

Meanwhile, female, minority and neurodiverse candidates represent a talent pool too many employers leave untapped.

‘68% of UK employers struggle to hire for technical skills, yet just 32% have conducted a strategic workforce planning exercise…’ Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD)

Reaping the rewards of degree apprenticeships in the tech sector

Microsoft cloud security specialist Softwerx, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), is growing a diverse degree apprentice team. Softwerx has experienced the benefits of adopting a degree apprenticeship strategy for skills development and is a finalist in the SMB Category of the Multicultural Apprenticeship Awards 2023. The company is a leading Microsoft security partner, and operating in the fast-growth cybersecurity sector means there is a cyber skills gap that needs to be plugged.

Take Softwerx’s award-winning digital apprentice Faith Akinbo, for example. Her journey has been nothing short of inspirational – starting a few years ago she’s now progressed to the role of Content Coordinator, responsible for company and product communications.

Faith’s work is being noticed in Softwerx and beyond. Faith is being fully supported by her employer to help her engage in the industry, forge her own path and develop her own career trajectory as well as identify suitable role models. For example, she speaks at school events helping to inspire the next generation of digital degree apprentices. She’s also facilitated exclusive events with Microsoft, directly mentored a school leaver with Kinship Bursary, and been featured on BBC Cambridgeshire and the UK Government’s ‘Apprentices in Action’ 2023 video showcase. Faith won the Apprentice of the Year in 2022 for Cambridgeshire and has been shortlisted in the Digital Technology Apprentice category for the Multicultural Apprenticeship Awards 2023. Faith and her colleagues Grace Nwoseh and Phoebe Ward participated in Google’s flagship 2023 ‘Women in Tech’ event in London.

Faith’s example has inspired Softwerx to take on three additional degree apprentices and given her the opportunity to mentor them as they grow into the team.

While taking success in her stride, Faith explains how she is gaining skills and exposure: “I’m excited to be part of a dynamic degree apprenticeship culture at Softwerx. The opportunities to speak to schools, mentor new colleagues and gain industry experience are really helping me grow.” Furthermore, Softwerx is also intertwining diversity in its culture by signing the Microsoft Partner Pledge – a key pillar of which is supporting the development and retention of a diverse workforce. 

Valuing diversity

Digital apprenticeships are also helping Softwerx recruit neurodiverse talent, with two marketing team members having been diagnosed with dyslexia.

And the firm is fully committed to making the necessary adjustments that allow neurodiverse talent to thrive by working with ARU’s Student Support services to tailor a plan that works around each individual.

“Running a diverse degree apprenticeship programme with Anglia Ruskin University is extremely rewarding. We try to help our apprentices thrive by giving them opportunities that they might not get at other organisations, and the chance to take on extra responsibility.” Patrick Leckie, Manager, Softwerx

And each apprentice enjoys 1-2-1 support, which steadily builds knowledge from fundamentals to specialisms, supporting a clear path for growth and development.

“Running a diverse degree apprenticeship programme with ARU is extremely rewarding. We try to help our apprentices thrive by giving them opportunities that they might not get at other organisations, and the chance to take on extra responsibility,” says Softwerx manager Patrick Leckie.

The feedback from other Softwerx apprentices from diverse backgrounds is also positive: “Softwerx helped me achieve many personal goals while working through my apprenticeship,” says apprentice Olly Ijeh. “I was given freedom to learn at my own pace and throughout I’ve worked closely with mentor colleagues who allow me to learn the ropes very quickly.”

Softwerx backs the UK National Cyber Security Centre’s belief that “the moral case for equality of opportunity in the workplace is clear, while numerous studies have shown that high levels of diversity and inclusivity create better business outcomes too.”

Indeed, McKinsey research reveals that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams are 25% more likely to have above average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. Additionally, top quartile companies for ethnic and cultural diversity outperform fourth quartile competitors by 36% in profitability.

“Top quartile companies for ethnic and cultural diversity outperform those in the fourth by 36% in profitability.” McKinsey & Co.

A degree apprenticeship programme is an ideal delivery vehicle for upskilling, improving diversity and building a future-proof talent pipeline. Of course, there is an investment of time in training and experience, so this needs to be factored into the long-term business planning.

So how can your SME train for the skills you need, build inclusivity and futureproof your business?

Why hire degree apprentices?

Degree apprentices are a great alternative work-based route to degree education. Traditional university routes are popular and effective, but degree apprenticeships combine the theory and practice for people who thrive on, and prefer hands on experience. An Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) degree apprenticeship is a great option when looking for training providers.

What’s more, the cost is much more reasonable than smaller firms realise. If your annual staff pay amounts to less than £3 million, then the UK government will cover 95% of the costs of tuition.

An extra benefit is that since there is no age limit and it’s not restricted to new staff, you can choose an existing member of staff to train as an apprentice instead of/as well as recruiting someone entirely new. This is perfect to bridge gaps and upskill and empower your existing team.

Start fuelling the future today

Digital apprentices like Faith belong at the heart of forward-thinking organisations like Softwerx.

With the UK tech industry reaching a $1 trillion valuation and the evolution of tools such as AI accelerating at hyper speed, Britain needs to train the next generation of tech talent right now.

Considering all the benefits, perhaps it’s time that degree apprenticeships and digital diversity become part of your strategic workforce planning. Done right, this will fuel your company’s future success.

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The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.