Tuesday, 4 March 2014

My morning with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg

By Edward Jones

On Wednesday 26 February 2014 at 14:39, I received an official invite to attend a speech hosted by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg at Southfields AcademyThe speech would be followed by a 45 minute Q&A and then a careers fair attended by 500 students .

I had made it, it was now simply a matter of time before i'd be part of the inner circle, supping on tea and cakes at 10 Downing Street.  

In the real world (where i'm forced to live), I was there to listen to what the Deputy Prime Minister and his coalition government have planned to improve education, training and job opportunities for young people aged 16-24, ahead of National Apprenticeships Week. 

The killer question

As a provider of IT apprenticships, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to ask Mr Clegg a question that has been burning away at the heart of Firebrand's Apprenticeship programme. So let me frame the killer question for you:

The technology sector is currently expanding at a rapid pace, demand for skilled IT workers has outpaced supply. The EU now predict that by 2015 there will be a skills gap of 700,000 trained IT professionals. Youth unemployment stands at roughly 900,000, it looks like we have a situation to kill two birds with one stone (excuse the pun). Plug the growing IT skills gap allowing the UK economy to grow, and take a large step towards solving youth unemployment.

Unfortunately the existing national curriculum for Information Technology is simply not fit for purpose. School leavers aren't provided with the necessary skill set to enter into a specialist career in IT. IT Apprenticeships have been introduced as a fantastic solution to bridge the evident skills gap. 

Employers are matched with talented 16-24 year old school leavers, the apprentice receives training funded by the government, on the job experience and mentoring. At the end of the programme, employers have a skilled worker to fill their vacancy, and the apprentice is now on the ladder to a well paid career. 

Problem solved? Not quite, despite the growing availability of IT apprenticeships, and the opportunity for a well paid, life long career in IT, vacancies continue to receive a lack of applications. 

So here comes the killer question....

What is the government going to do to get kids interested in IT apprenticeships?

An answer to my question?

So there I find myself, a stones throw from the Deputy Prime Minister (not that I intended to throw stones, personally I like the man) currently laying out the plan for 16-24 year olds.

During the speech Mr Clegg outlined 3 key initiatives:
  1. Schools will be tasked with providing better careers advice to students, whilst working to build relationships with local employers to give greater work experience opportunities. This is to be enforced by OFSTED, who have already highlighted that 80% of schools fail to give detailed and sufficient careers support.
  2. A UCAS style website is to be created, providing 16-24 year olds with as much information as possible on existing apprenticeship, traineeship and college programs. 
  3. Trials will soon begin at selected Jobcentre Plus locations, where 16-17 year olds will be given detailed advice from a dedicated Careers Advisors.
Unfortunately during the Q&A session I never got to ask my killer question. But upon reflection, it turns out Mr Clegg had already given me an answer during his speech. 

It's all about education

16-24 year olds need to be educated about the employment opportunities available to them. This has to start long before they leave school, at present your average 16-24 year old isn't aware that they can earn £60,000-£70,000 working in the IT sector. They don't know about all of the exciting careers where they can design and build applications, websites and games. And they are a million miles away from learning about the inner workings of a PC or how to code. 

They often have a stereotype built up in there heads that IT is only for "geeks" , when the reality is far different. It's really is up to schools and Apprentice providers like Firebrand to show them what IT is really all about.

Playing my part

Before I knew what was happening, Mr Clegg was gone and I found myself at Firebrand's stand in the careers fair. Joined by a fantastic Firebrand apprentice, Tom Davies who works for Adatis as a Junior Business Intelligence Consultant, we spent the next hour talking to Southfields Academy students about Firebrand IT Apprenticeships. 

The school itself is well respected for its provision of Careers Advice, and the kids showed genuine enthusiasm as they bustled about the stands. It was amazing to see how their attitudes shift once they find out about all of the careers available to them in IT, Flyers were snapped up, animated conversations were had, and all in all it was a fantastic event. I was surprised at how many kids expressed an interest to learn code, all with quickly imagined dreams of creating apps, making £ millions and retiring at the grand old age of 21 in some mansion in the South of France.

So there we have it, that was my morning with Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

About the Author

As part of Firebrand's global marketing team, Edward actively works to serve the IT community with news, reviews and technical how to guides. Edward is an active member of the IT community contributing to a variety of tech publications including Microsoft TechNet, Channel Pro and PC Advisor among others.