Ben Rowland is the co-founder of Arch Apprentices, the UK’s leading digital and IT apprenticeship provider that combines young talent with great employers like Facebook and Google to create valuable and productive employees in entry level IT and digital jobs. Ben has over 15 years’ experience building organisations and initiatives that address social and economic challenges.
What does politics have to do with digital skills?
Agencies, advertisers and publishers are living through a digital revolution. Technology, revenue streams and entire business models are being ripped up and reinvented. The struggle for survival is only outdone by the prospect of the rewards for those that get it right. Getting the right skills at the right price is a crucial task.
What on earth has the small matter of politics got to do with these digital skills in a revolution that is global and societal, going far beyond the bounds of the realm of politicians?
Tucked away at the back of the Autumn Statement was a little heralded but vital measure that the UK Government is putting into place next year: removing all apprentices from National Insurance Contributions (NICs).
The effect of the measure is to reduce the cost to an employer of taking on any apprentice who is earning above £8,000 (well, £7,956 to be precise). The higher paid the apprentice, the more significant the saving.
For example, an apprentice earning £10,000 per annum used to cost the employer £10,282; now that cost will be £10,000 – a small, if handy, saving. However, for an apprentice earning £15,000 the saving will be nearly £1,000, which becomes over £1,600 for those paying their apprentices £20,000 (a minority admittedly).
Overall, it means the government is putting its money where its mouth is in supporting employers to focus recruitment efforts on this hitherto overlooked pool of talent.
I also note that the Labour Party’s manifesto preparation process has picked just five priority areas: housing, low pay, living standards, the NHS and – apprenticeships.
What does all this signify and why is it important for the digital skills agenda?
The first thing is that it shows continued and deep support from across the political spectrum for apprenticeships (in case you’re wondering, the Lib Dem’s Vince Cable led the charge on celebrating the 2 millionth apprentice starting since the last election).
Secondly, it suggests that apprenticeships are likely to continue to evolve and develop as whichever government in power seeks to stamp its own mark on what is increasingly seen to be a successful programme.
And thirdly, it makes it still more attractive for companies competing for the next best IT and digital talent to turn to apprenticeships. This is because, in our experience, apprentices in these sorts of roles typically attract much higher salaries than many other types of apprenticeship – so the saving is bigger (as a rule of thumb, most of our IT and digital apprentices earn between £8k and £14k per annum).
It is one of those few happy occasions where politicians across the spectrum are both willing and able to do the right thing for the right reasons – we just need to make sure employers know how to take advantage of these opportunities.