Firms Urged To Take On 'Earn As You Learn' IT Apprentices

A recent initiative by nine companies from Mid Ulster, the North West and North Antrim to join forces in a unique collaboration to address local IT skills shortages has proved such a success that they are now calling on nine more companies to come on board for the next phase of the programme.

The businesses, all of whom invest heavily in IT, collaborated with Northern Regional College to launch Career Encode, an innovative Earn As You Learn Higher Level Apprenticeship in Computing for school leavers.

Over 85 school-leavers and individuals considering a career change applied, exceeding all expectations. Due to the high calibre of applicants a total of 10 apprenticeships have been offered and are due to begin as early as June 2019.

The nine participating companies are Specialist Joinery Group and FP McCann, Maghera; Bloc Blinds, Magherafelt; CDE Global and Mallon Technology, Cookstown; Kilrea-based Acorn IT Solutions; Coleraine based Spatialest; Randox, Crumlin; and Toomebridge-based SDC Trailers.

Camilla Long, Director of Bespoke Communications, which specialises in training and leadership development, is acting as an independent facilitator for the nine employers. She explained why more companies should embrace innovative approaches of this nature to plug the skills gap: "Recruiting new staff, and in particular IT staff, is one of the major challenges facing businesses today. The companies who took part in the Career Encode pilot were finding it increasingly difficult to find the right skills in their local area. As a result, they decided to take steps to develop their own labour force via this innovative Earn as You Learn Higher-Level Apprenticeship in Computing.

"We had a phenomenal response to the launch of the initiative. Over 85 young people applied, and the calibre of the applicants was exceptionally high. The young people who were interviewed were interested, engaged, motivated and willing to learn. There is clearly a need for opportunities of this nature."
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Ms Long added: "We are now looking for a further nine companies to join the second phase of the programme. If you are wondering why your business should join, the answer is simple. Career Encode will alleviate your technology staffing problems. It will allow you to grow your own skilled staff in a tight labour market, so you can develop employees with the skillset that you need.

"It will also further build your employer brand, so you can differentiate yourself and attract the very best candidates. We support you all the way, offering specialist workshops to help your team leaders mentor and manage your new apprentices. By working in collaboration with other like-minded companies you will be in a position to build a talent pipeline, so skill shortages are no longer an issue."

Discussing the calibre of individuals that applied for the Career Encode apprenticeships, Brian Law, IT Manager at FP McCann, a participating company, said: "FP McCann is one of the largest employers in the mid Ulster region. Our bespoke IT infrastructure and software is critical to the sustainability of our enterprise. 

"We were so impressed with the high calibre of the applicants that we offered two apprenticeships as opposed to one. We are looking forward to continuing our investment in a skilled IT team with the Career Encode initiative and would strongly recommend it to any business that is experiencing difficulties in recruiting staff with technology skills."

In addition to gaining skills in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and software development, the apprenticeship offers a number of benefits to young people. Bronagh Gallagher from Maghera, who secured an apprenticeship with FP McCann, discusses: "I think Career Encode is a brilliant programme. I'm going to get a Foundation Degree qualification accredited by Ulster University, without having to pay university fees or run up student debt.  

"Higher Level Apprentices get paid a full salary so I will be earning while I learn from an experienced professional mentor. I know that this valuable experience will help me to stand out from the crowd. I can't wait to get started."

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