Mark Samuels, Harvey Nash, takes a look at how apprenticeships can bring in new talent to fill the current IT skills gap, and how businesses can benefit from the associated apprenticeship levy.

Such is the size of the IT skills gap that the UK needs 134,000 new technology specialists every year, according to Tech Partnership research. Your business might be coping with the capability crisis right now but the fight for talent is set to intensify as the demand for skilled workers, particularly those with data and digital specialisms, rises exponentially. Consultant McKinsey expects the demand for digital talent to significantly outstrip supply during the rest of the decade.

The UK government has responded by stating it wants to achieve three million new apprentices by 2020. It has backed this response with a new commitment to training and development. All UK employers with an annual payroll above £3 million must now contribute to an apprenticeship levy. Funds from this levy are accessible to employers through a new digital apprenticeship service account.

This service pays for training and assessment, and helps employers find training providers to deliver apprenticeship programmes. Executives should note the funds expire 18 months after entering the digital account, so there is no time to waste. Your task now is to help your organisation take control of the funds and to deliver a training programme through the right provider.

That task is urgent. Businesses that fail to work quickly are potentially losing thousands of pounds, both in terms of funding for apprenticeships and through the loss of a competitive advantage from an injection of new skills. CIOs who identify capability gaps can start to focus on areas of digital capability that will give your business a performance boost.

The Boston Consulting Group says organisations must understand what digital looks like, where such capability can be found, and how individuals can be attracted and retained. Honing digital talent is also about more than acquiring new personnel for specific jobs. CIOs must help their organisations to nurture internal talent and to develop digital skills in existing roles.

The apprenticeship levy provides a mechanism to help upskill your workforce. While apprenticeships are often associated with younger employees, the apprenticeship levy can be used to train all workers, filling skills gaps and boosting capability across a diverse range of employees and areas.

The right framework will help your business to analyse and understand the skills gaps it holds, and to then think about how an apprenticeship could be used to fill those capability holes. A trusted digital competency framework, such as SFIAplus, while provide your organisations with a globally accepted standard for the skills and competencies required in the digital world.

You will then need to identify which standards - such as software developer, data analyst and cybersecurity technologist - will match those capability requirements. By working with trusted training providers or by running an internal development programme, your organisation can use these standards to make full use of the apprenticeship levy. Affirmative action now will help your business to create a highly-skilled digital workforce that is fit for the fast-changing digital world.