Apprenticeships have long been heralded as education and study opportunities for young school leavers, acting as an entry point to certain jobs. Sometimes apprenticeships are thought of as not encouraging progression along a tailored career path for an individual. However, this is not the case at all!
Within the IT industry, apprenticeships are a great way to learn the trade and jump-start a career in any specialty. An ever-increasing reliance on technology is driving demand for IT professionals with a wider range of skills, qualities, experience, and education. Apprenticeships provide a unique support framework for new and prospective IT professionals to learn the relevant skills they’ll need to succeed in their chosen role, without sacrificing their time and worth.
According to Jobrapido’s (2019) research, two-thirds of the UK workforce wrongly believe they are too old to become an apprentice, when in fact, they could not be more wrong! These apprenticeships are not aimed at young people only; rather, people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience are actively encouraged to enrol. Apprenticeships are a golden opportunity to receive hands-on experience and technical instruction, whilst studying and improving technology and business skills. This is particularly useful for those who may not be able to access these through a direct route such as university, due to their financial situation or other accessibility issues.
The benefits of apprenticeship schemes
By taking part in an IT apprenticeship, all students of the chosen academic pathway are exposed to a genuine work environment, and have the added benefit of applying the classroom context to the workplace role and responsibilities. This fluidity allows employers to coach the apprentice in the particular skills and expertise necessary for success and growth in the role, and enables comparisons to be drawn between learning and the ‘real life’ aspect.
As part of the apprenticeships, those in the IT field are usually assigned tasks to complete, with specific deadlines. This helps to reinforce the value of teamwork and teach the responsibility and accountability necessary to meet professional expectations. In turn, this empowers them to build their own knowledge base and prepare them to succeed in the competitive IT job market, which can seem daunting and overwhelming on a first-encounter basis.
Offering access to workshops, forums, events, exams, and certifications, these apprenticeships promote the cross-functional skills needed to showcase talent within the industry. The combination of technical instruction, access to invaluable resources in the form of people and text, and hands-on workplace experience can be a gateway to an extremely successful career within the IT industry; something which, for many, may not have seemed achievable through traditional academia.
Earn while you learn
Furthermore, an incentive of IT apprenticeships is the ‘earn while you learn’ model. These schemes provide an income in addition to invaluable education, allowing for flexibility and providing a sense of agency. Apprenticeships do well to encourage viewing learning as not simply an academic pursuit, but as an opportunity to improve your skills (and maybe even your lifestyle!). This is an incredibly important facet of this style of education, as participants do not have to sacrifice their time or their worth in order to lay the foundations for a secure and promising future, both for themselves and their families.
We are now starting to see an increase in the marketing, promotion, and knowledge transfer surrounding apprenticeships, as well as more availability in terms of industries, roles, and experience provision. Within Northern Ireland, more and more emphasis is being placed on apprenticeships and the skills they provide which feed the NI economy-something that is so desperately needed.
It’s important to remember that it is not just the learner who can benefit from apprenticeships, but also the employer. For apprentices aged 16-24, the full costs of the directed training element of the apprenticeship are funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) Programme and the Department for the Economy (DfE) in NI. Additionally, an Employer Incentive Payment is available to employers when their apprentice completes their Level 2 or Level 3 apprenticeship framework.
This means that employing an apprentice is often more cost-effective than hiring someone skilled. Moreover, the mixture of on and off-the-job training means an apprentice benefits from experienced staff who know how the business works, while also developing new skills and gaining exposure to the latest techniques from qualified trainers. This development inspires staff to work towards and reach their full potential, leading to increased productivity, improved competitiveness, and a competent workforce.
Rising interest in apprenticeships
In recent years Northern Ireland (and Belfast in particular), has become recognised on a global scale with steady growth and a focus on areas such as cybersecurity, fintech, and software development, attracting a number of multinational corporations, such as Allstate, Citigroup, and IBM (VANRATH, 2023). Northern Ireland is the #1 international investment location for US cyber security firms and Belfast is Europe’s leading FDI destination for new software development (fDi Markets FT, 2023).
With this said, we can see why there is a rising trend of apprenticeships in the IT industry for 2023, and I can personally provide further evidence of the success rate of this approach to career development.
From System Administrator Apprentice to Security & DevOps Engineer
I joined Datactics in 2020 through a Level 3 IT apprenticeship program in Networking & Infrastructure offered at Belfast Metropolitan College.
The process consisted of a simple application, and invitation to complete Mindmill aptitude tests. Upon successful completion, employer applications could be made. I interviewed with Datactics and immediately was keen to get started there. The people were so friendly and welcoming and the Systems Administrator apprenticeship seemed very inviting – with the DevOps team encompassing a range of roles and responsibilities which would all contribute greatly to my chosen industry path.
After accepting the job offer and induction at the company, a 6 week bootcamp at Belfast Met started remotely (due to COVID19). This consisted of a well-rounded introduction to all networking and infrastructure aspects of IT, as well as some basic soft skills and IT tools, with tasks to encourage students to put the theory and knowledge into practice. Completion of the bootcamp lead to the beginning of the Networking & Infrastructure course, which I completed in May 2022, and was awarded Learner of the Year at the Belfast Met Apprentice Awards.
This has led me to my newest role of Security & DevOps Engineer at Datactics, which I thoroughly enjoy, and has allowed me to work towards specialising within the industry. I am excited to see where Datactics will lead me next, and I am reassured that at any time, I can return to my studies at a higher level.
Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland are currently offered at Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 upwards, and existing ability and qualifications are taken into consideration during the application stage. Completion of a level typically takes two years, broken down into attendance with the employer four days a week and the training provider one day a week. Application and acceptance requirements include:
- having reached the minimum school leaving age in NI (16 years)
- be employed or be about to take up paid employment in NI
- be working a minimum of 21 hours per week on a permanent contract
- meet all the entry requirements and eligibility considerations of the chosen apprenticeship
This is an exciting time for the region, and for the IT industry as a whole, and I would openly encourage anyone with an interest in any aspect of technology to seriously research and consider an apprenticeship as the foot in the door they need to achieve their cyber and technology end goal.