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Digital skills dearth hampers apprenticeship scheme



Ministers are to be warned that a shortage of digital skills among young people and uncoordinated funding for apprenticeship schemes has "blindsided" a trade association tasked with improving the digital skills of young people in the north west of England.

Independent non-profit Manchester Digital represents digital 450 businesses in northwest England and helps to deliver the Skills Funding Agency's National Apprenticeship Service among the region's digital SMEs, providing a free apprentice matching service.

"There's no problem getting jobs - there's no digital talent coming in. It's blindsided us on the contract", said Katie Gallagher, Manchester Digital's business development manager. "We have a generation of digital consumers, not a generation of digital creators," she said, a finding that has been highlighted by the organisation's 'talent days' which introduce businesses to students and vice-versa.

Apprenticeships, work-based training programmes, last one to four years and lead to nationally-recognised qualifications. Apprentices must be paid at least the national minimum wage for apprentices (£2.68 per hour) and employers can apply to receive a grant of up to £1,500 towards the cost of hiring and training.

Results of the annual Digital Skills Audit commissioned by Manchester Digital announced earlier this year found that, in 2013, 32% of digital organisations in the region turned down work because of a lack of resources.

At the same time, demand for digital skills is growing. Developers are no longer employed by software houses alone but by a wide range of businesses. And the problem is compounded by fewer people across the UK choosing to study computer science.

Gallagher also described as "utterly bizarre" the way the government funds apprenticeships. While the National Apprenticeship Service has funded Manchester Digital to assist apprenticeship schemes, the Skills Funding Agency, has also funded independent UK skills organisation Creative Skill Set to carry out similar work in the same location, she said. The agency funds skills training nationwide with around £4 billion annually. She plans to inform government ministers of these barriers to progress.

On the positive side, Manchester City Council has been "receptive", to the issues arising from participation in the apprenticeship scheme and to plans to develop information and guidance for schools following discussions, she said. Schools specialising in IT have begun to open and Manchester Digital plans to create an online resource aimed at young job seekers showcasing "rewarding careers in digital" and "make young people feel part of a digital community" said Gallagher.

Manchester is home to the third largest cluster of digital businesses in Europe.

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