The UK digital technology sector is growing 2.6 times faster than the overall economy. According to a 2018 report by Tech Nation, the turnover of digital tech companies rose 4.5 per cent in 2017, compared with a 1.7 per cent rise in GDP. In the South West alone, the number of new tech companies rose by 42 per cent last year, which is unsurprising given the growth in technology usage in recent decades. But it is a positive sign that even in face of a looming Brexit, the sector shows no sign of slowing down.
With any sector growth comes an increase in employment opportunities; however, the fast-changing nature of the tech industry means it’s not always so straightforward. Recruitment is the most common challenge for employers, with 83 per cent struggling to find skilled individuals. Cyber security is a growth area facing particularly large skills gaps, with sector leads calling for more action to equip future generations with the right skills to ensure our cyber security sector continues to combat evolving threats.
Work-integrated degree apprenticeships provide a model to fill these gaps, enabling people to study for a full honours degree while earning a salary. Delivered in a flexible way, these apprenticeships are ideal for both school leavers and experienced employees without the freedom or means to study for a full-time degree. What’s more, course fees are covered through the Government’s apprenticeship levy scheme introduced back in 2015, which also includes a co-funded route for non-levy paying employers.
Supported by the European Social Fund, the University of Plymouth is working with college partners across the South West to deliver work-integrated degrees in Digital Technology Solutions. As well as studying core modules, apprentices can specialise in elective modules such as Cyber Security or Software Engineering. Upon graduating, those studying Cyber Security also secure an associate membership of the Institute of Information Security Professionals (IISP), a benefit unique to the University, which demonstrates that graduates have an industry-recognised qualification and the connections to put it to best possible use.
With an increasing number of would-be positions being replaced by apps and automated systems, this focus on higher and degree level qualifications is crucial. Degree apprenticeships provide a means for employers and industry bodies to work with the education sector to deliver such higher-level skills, creating employees with skills the industry needs.