Northern firms turn to apprentices as Brexit bites

Tech sector ramps up apprenticeships to close skills gap

Digital and technology businesses in the North are taking on a record number of apprentices and graduates in an attempt to plug the growing skills gap, according to a new skills audit.

The audit from trade body Manchester Digital found that over half of surveyed businesses had taken on new apprentices in the past year, 80% of whom met employee expectations.

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Local universities supply talent to half of all technology businesses in the north-west, while 25% are actively running their own graduate schemes.

"It is great to see so many businesses in the region investing in their talent pipeline and taking on more apprentices than before," said Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital.

"In time for National Apprenticeship Week, our audit has shown apprenticeships provide value for the vast majority of employers and we are seeing more parents and potential candidates viewing tech apprenticeships as a high quality alternative to university."

When asked about the impending introduction of an apprenticeship levy on UK employers, which is designed to help fund new apprenticeship schemes, over 80% of companies believed it would provide a boon to business.

Content production, consultancy, design agencies, cloud and ISP providers, and digital agencies make up the majority of the businesses targeting a new generation of talent, 83% of which have reported growth in the past 12 months.

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But it's not all good news, as the number of vacancies still outpaces the availability of new talent. Development and client facing skills have become the most sought-after qualifications for new starters, yet these two areas are proving the most difficult to fill.

This is a particular issue for developer skills, as the work often requires specific knowledge or insight of specialist code or platforms. In terms of languages, over 40% of respondents highlighted Javascript and PHP as the most difficult roles to find developers for, followed by Python at 28% and Magneto at 24%.

Britain leaving the EU also remains a concern, as despite expectations that businesses would increase the amount of talent being sourced from outside Europe following the Brexit vote, the majority have yet to do so. In fact the number of businesses securing international talent outside of the region has dropped to 18% since 2016.

The growing talent deficit has meant 20% of businesses in the region have been forced to turn away work as a result.

"With as many as a fifth of the regions digital businesses turning down work due to a talent shortage, and with no immediate solution in sight, it is imperative that employers look further down the talent supply chain and structure their recruitment strategies to allow for apprenticeships," said Gallagher.

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