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Scottish Graduate Apprenticeships: Bridging the Skills Gap

In an interview with DIGIT, Ronnie Beattie, Business Development Manger at Glasgow Caledonian University muses over the role of Graduate Apprenticeships within the broader Scottish tech skills landscape.

Recruitment and retention of staff is one of the biggest challenges facing Scottish tech. Rallying off stats isn’t difficult with the sheer amount of data out supporting the notion that at all levels – businesses are struggling to get people with the right skills into the right roles.

As such, employers are changing their hiring strategies to fill job vacancies.

According to Hays’ Salary and Recruiting Trends guide 2023, almost three quarters of employers in Scotland (71%) have said that, to address skill shortages, they would be willing to employ staff without the necessary skills. Furthermore, 22% have increased their training budget to focus on upskilling their existing staff.

When you consider that 82% of jobs advertised last year explicitly required digital skills, and a growing number of technical roles, employers need to start looking at talent pipelines.

As it stands, there are a huge number of opportunities available, but not enough people who possess the required range of knowledge and skills entering the market.

This where Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs) come in.

Graduate Apprenticeships give companies the opportunity to train and develop new and existing employees through a fully-funded university degree.

In an interview with DIGIT, Ronnie Beattie, Business Development Manger at Glasgow Caledonian University discusses how a collaborative effort between businesses, academia, and government has laid the foundation for graduate apprenticeships to thrive in Scotland.

These programmes not only provide companies with new talent but also offer individuals practical experience while pursuing higher education.

The Power of Collaboration
“We encourage organisations to partner with us, engage with the curriculum, and get their innovative products and designs known to students,” posits GCU’s Beattie.

He concedes that while so many of Scotland’s myriad tech organisations, industry bodies and establishments are siloed, creating strong collaboration is crucial for the success of graduate apprenticeships and, in the long-term, addressing the skills gap and failing talent pipeline.

For businesses, it’s a no-brainer given that the Scottish Government fully-funds GCU’s graduate apprenticeship scheme – in the past, however, the problem was the inevitable draw of multi- national organisations. Though, Beattie is noticing a sea change in this regard.

He says: “When these programmes started six years ago, big multinational tech companies and organisations that needed digital skills were the obvious participants.”

However, there has been a noticeable shift, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also recognising the value of investing in their workforce and creating their own talent pool.

Beattie adds: “I’ve seen a trend where SMEs are starting to make inroads into graduate apprenticeships.

“These smaller companies realise that they can grow their own talent and foster innovation by providing their employees with the opportunity to pursue a work-based degree.”

Data Science and Data Literacy
Data literacy has become a sought-after skill, not only for tech departments but also for analysis teams in various organisations. The ability to work with data and make better decisions based on data insights has become essential for a company’s success.

On this, Beattie says: “There’s a trend towards engineering companies recognising the value of having data skills within their workforce.

“As data becomes increasingly crucial, companies want their engineers to have some sort of cyber-skill.”

As such, master’s degrees in cybersecurity are increasingly pursued by engineers to safeguard data and protect organisations from potential threats.

Moreover, the emergence of data science as a discipline is transforming various industries. The AI data science program at GCU attracts significant interest, as organisations realize the potential of data-driven decision-making and innovation.

“We have witnessed a surge in demand for our AI data science programme,” Beattie emphasises.

“Businesses across sectors are looking for talent with expertise in data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to gain a competitive edge in the digital age.”

Mechanics of Graduate Apprenticeships
“Graduate apprenticeships are fully funded, costing nothing for the company or the candidate,” assures Beattie.

This fully funded model ensures that both businesses and individuals can participate without financial barriers. As a result, a diverse range of individuals, from ages 16 to 60, are taking advantage of these opportunities.

The flexibility of graduate apprenticeships allows for recognition of prior learning, enabling individuals to start at various levels, depending on their existing qualifications and experience.

This flexibility can appeal to both current employees seeking career advancement and new talent entering the workforce.

The structure of graduate apprenticeships balances university learning and practical work at the company. Each week involves one day of university learning, with approximately six hours of coursework, and four days of hands-on experience at the company.

This approach provides candidates with a well-rounded education while immersing them in real-world projects and challenges.

Diverse Career Pathways
Graduate apprenticeships are not limited to one specific field or industry, with GCU stating that it offers a ‘wide range of graduate apprenticeships, including programs in software development, cybersecurity, and AI data science.’

Beattie adds: “This diversity ensures that individuals with varying interests and skills can find a program
that suits them.”

For instance, the oil and gas industry in Scotland is in the midst of a digital transformation revolution, drastically shifting the skillsets required for one of the country’s most employable industries.

According to Beattie, graduate apprenticeships have played huge a role in this change.

He says: “The oil and gas sector has been evolving, and our engineering and data science programs have been instrumental in providing the industry with a digitally skilled workforce.”

Additionally, creative industries in Scotland are recognising the value of graduate apprenticeships, according to Beattie.

He says: “Our partnerships with creative companies has been fruitful, with apprentices contributing to innovative projects in animation, gaming, and design.”

Graduate apprenticeships in Scotland have emerged as a powerful solution for bridging the skill gap, fostering collaboration between industry and academia, and cultivating a future-ready workforce.

The combination of practical experience and formal education enables individuals to thrive in their careers, while businesses benefit from a skilled workforce driving innovation and growth.

With data science becoming a key focus area, these apprenticeships play a crucial role in developing data literacy and empowering organisations to make data-driven decisions.

With more and more companies turning to hiring unskilled workers or upskilling their current staff, graduate apprenticeships like the kind seen at GCU could serve to fill the skills gap while Scotland’s technology sector gets its staff up to snuff.

Source: DIGIT

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