We’re featured in this month’s Times Guide to Elite Apprenticeships, which highlights some of the incredible opportunities for young people being offered across a huge range of sectors in the UK today. Read the piece, shared below, to find out how we’re preparing apprentices for the world of work with skills that are changing lives, like our digital marketing apprentice Amy Davis.

Euan Blair and Sophie Adelman

Time and again we hear that today’s school-leavers are digital natives. Yet the widening skills gap in the UK workforce reveals that this does not necessarily translate into digital proficiency at work.

Apprenticeships offer the opportunity to close this technical skills gap, training young people in the tools and techniques that employers really need.

Take marketing: no longer powered by creativity alone, the pressure to track, analyse and prove return on investment has transformed the field into a much more technical discipline. According to LinkedIn’s recent UK Workforce Report, hiring rates in the media and communications sector are up nearly 7 per cent from last year. Despite the increased demand, more than three-quarters of UK employers report a shortage of digital skills in the workplace — particularly in marketing, where just 8 per cent of employees are said to possess entry-level digital skills.

And it’s not just in marketing that employers are struggling. According to Sherry Coutu, the founder of Workfinder, a work experience marketplace app, 92 per cent of vacancies at start-ups and scale-ups now require STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) for digital and technology roles.

As a tech start-up, we at WhiteHat understand how important it is to equip our apprentices with the skills they need. We have built a clear pathway, with apprenticeships in everything from IT support and software engineering through to data analytics and digital marketing.

By partnering with General Assembly, the pioneering Silicon Valley learning provider, we have created a level 3 digital marketing qualification. Integrating its content and a bootcamp experience into our apprenticeship programme has created a learning experience that is helping our apprentices to get ahead at some of the UK’s most exceptional companies.

Software engineering is another problem area for hiring. Many software engineers come to their profession indirectly. They might have studied science or maths at university, coding in their spare time as a hobby. Going to university for three or four years to study computer science doesn’t set them up for success in the world of work — and they’re building up £50,000 of debt.

We are working with Google on its first apprenticeships in software engineering, in partnership with Ada, the National College for Digital Skills. This is a two-year, level 4 apprenticeship under the software engineer level 4 standard, targeted at school-leavers who have demonstrated an interest in coding. For a young person set on becoming a developer, it’s a great way to build strong foundations, accruing two years of experience at a respected company and gaining a nationally recognised qualification in the process.

We are also working with employers who are keen to build a junior developer talent pipeline to design a combined level 3 and level 4 software engineering qualification. Delivered over three and a half years, the apprenticeship will teach the foundations of Java and a deep knowledge of web technologies. We have recently worked with the business software developer Sage to place an apprentice in their deep-tech robot-building team developing the next generation of artificial intelligence.

Almost every job today requires digital fluency, so we embed digital skills across all of our qualifications — from accounting to business administration to HR support — through our Future Leaders Foundation qualification that all our apprentices complete. These digital skills are delivered in bite-sized modules via our online learning platform.

Perceptions about apprenticeships are changing. Employers are identifying apprenticeship programmes as a way to address the skills gap. For talented, ambitious young people eager to launch their careers, an apprenticeship could be an exceptional first move.

Amy Davis

Case study

When asked what helps them to reach their goals, more than 25 per cent of our apprentices say tangible achievements — being able to complete projects of which they could feel proud. It was the most important factor in keeping them engaged and successful.

One of our WhiteHat apprentices, Amy Davis, 21, is completing her level 3 digital marketing qualification at Portland Communications. Having completed her A levels in graphic design, print media, photography and ICT, she decided that an apprenticeship would be the best way to explore and develop her passion for creative and digital media.

Davis was recently asked to design a video for one of Portland’s clients, to be shown in a large international airport. She managed the project from beginning to end and her work was shown for two weeks and seen by hundreds of thousands of people daily.

Given how well she coped with the project, her line managers have trusted her to take on filming projects around the country and have decided to send her on an animation course to develop her skill set. They intend to continue setting her large-scale projects and exploring other ways to support her development.

“I’ve been given a lot of responsibility which I never thought I would get so soon as an apprentice,” she says. “And I’m looking forward to the future opportunities.”