A bright future for Digital Apprentices

September 2016

Students and teacherAs part of London Tech Week, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, hosted the official kick start to the new Digital IT Apprenticeships on 22 June at the IET, Savoy Place. Kevin Streater FBCS CITP, Chair BCS Learning & Development Specialist Group, reports.

Tim Campbell, best known for winning the first series of ‘The Apprentice’, and a passionate advocate and ambassador for digital apprenticeships, hosted the evening with contributions from Baroness Morgan of Huyton, a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, representatives from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the Association of Colleges, Microsoft, CapGemini and a former IT apprentice and now CEO of WeGym, Joshua Uwadiae.

The event was a great opportunity to hear from leading speakers from government, industry and education about the new digital IT apprenticeship standards and the impact of the new ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship model.

The government has stated that they want to achieve three million new apprentices by 2020 and business has responded by stating that they are planning to recruit more digital IT apprentices. BCS will be a significant provider of these new digital IT apprentices through its partner training provider network.

Apprenticeship standards

What is so different about the digital IT apprenticeships? The major difference is that they are now competency-based rather than qualification-based. Previous apprenticeship frameworks (SASE/W - Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England / Wales, and Modern Apprenticeships for Scotland) were driven by completion of an Ofqual regulated qualification or foundation degree with the addition of a specified set of transferable skills (English, Maths and ICT).

What they could not ensure was that the apprentice was competent to perform in a job at the end of their apprenticeship. The Richard Review of Apprenticeships, published in 2012, determined that the outcomes of an apprenticeship were critical to business, and missing from the existing models.

The new digital IT apprenticeships are based on the apprentice being able to sufficiently demonstrate a core set of technical competencies which are defined in each apprenticeship standard. To support this there is a specification for the technical knowledge and understanding that the apprentice must obtain during their apprenticeship, and a set of underpinning skills, attitudes and behaviours that must be developed. The knowledge and understanding must be learned through a mix of at least one vendor or professional qualification, combined with Ofqual regulated knowledge modules.

BCS digital IT apprenticeships

For the BCS digital IT apprenticeships, BCS has chosen to look to the digital IT competency standards that we all use as members - SFIAplus. The Skills Framework for the Information Age was formally established in 2000, and has become the globally accepted common language for the skills and competencies required in the digital world.

The collaborative development style of SFIA involves open consultation and input from people with real practical experience of skills management in corporate and educational environments.

End point assessment (EPA) is critical to the digital IT apprenticeships programme. In this final stage of an apprenticeship, the candidate apprentice has to submit a portfolio demonstrating evidence of substantial pieces of work conducted through their apprenticeship, complete a synoptic project, which is a one-week real-world test of their capabilities, and then be interviewed by an assessor.

Together, with a reference from the apprentice’s employer, the assessor will use the evidence gathered to grade the apprentice. The SFIAplus work activities and level descriptors provide everything that is needed in order to assess whether the apprentice is competent and able to work at the expected level of responsibility.

RITTech

The final stage of the new digital IT apprenticeships is that at the end of their programme, successful apprentices can apply to join the professional register for IT technicians, the RITTech. RITTech launched in November 2015 and is a new standard designed to recognise the talents of IT technicians.

Technicians registered for the RITTech demonstrate a core understanding of IT, technical competence in at least one area that it is measured against, and are signed up to a professional code of conduct. This is not a qualification - it is professional recognition of being able to do a technically skilled job in IT well. The level is equivalent to technician certifications in other professions.

The apprenticeship levy

Funding of apprenticeships is going to change significantly from April 2017. From that date, some employers will be required to contribute to a new apprenticeship levy, and there will be changes to the funding for apprenticeship training for all employers.

The apprenticeship will require all employers operating in the UK, with a pay bill over £3 million each year, to make an investment in apprenticeships. Once you have paid the levy to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), employers will be able to access funds for apprenticeships through a new digital apprenticeship service account that is to be used to pay for training and assessment for apprentices in England.

The service will also help employers find training providers to help them develop and deliver their apprenticeship programme. The funds will expire 18 months after entering the digital account unless they have been spent on apprenticeship training.

These changes are significant as employers will be completely in control of choosing how to deliver their apprenticeship programme. They can contract a training provider, a local further education college or run their own internal programme. Whichever they choose, they will be in control of the funds.

The schools challenge

A major topic of debate for the panel session was how to get schools interested in recommending apprenticeships when schools, particularly those with sixth forms, are motivated to promote A-level study over vocational apprenticeships.

An attendee at the conference spoke on this, as her son’s school had done nothing to promote apprenticeships as a viable alternative for students who found learning in the workplace more attractive than further school study. This is a challenge that, as BCS members, we should all be engaged in - to make sure that apprenticeships are taken seriously as an alternative study route to A-levels and university courses.

The journey starts here

BCS is leading the way in developing high-quality, industry-led digital IT apprenticeships, and it is something that we, as members, can all get involved with. Contribute as an assessor or subject expert 

Find out more about the BCS digitial IT apprenticeships

Join the Learning and Development Specialist Group

Image: iStock.com/Goodluz

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