Graduate apprenticeships are helping plug digital skills gaps in Scotland, particularly in the business critical area of cyber security.

As part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week (7-11 March), the Open University in Scotland (OUiS) hosted an employer webinar to explore the current digital skills landscape and the role of apprenticeships.

Suzanne McQuade, business relationships manager at the OU was chair of the webinar, titled ‘Can Graduate Apprenticeships address Scotland’s digital skills gaps?’

She was joined by William Murray, skills planning manager (digital) at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Louise MacBean, apprentice programmes manager and Andrea Robertson, security team manager at Capgemini.

“Digital skills are in huge demand and we are experiencing significant shortages in this area,” said McQuade.

The OU is helping Scottish employers through work-based learning such as its Graduate Apprenticeships in Cyber Security – available at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Murray agreed that Graduate Apprenticeships have a very important role to play in ensuring employers have access to the skills they need now and in the future. “Co-designed with employers to support critical occupations and growth areas of the Scottish economy, the aim of apprenticeships is to ensure that industry has a supply of highly skilled and qualified individuals and aligns talent provision with current and emerging skills shortages,” he said.

Murray went on to discuss the key findings of SDS’s annual progress report into Graduate Apprenticeships.

The report showed 3,512 individuals have pursued a Graduate Apprenticeship, 500 employers are participating in Graduate Apprenticeships, and 100 per cent said that they are part of their long-term recruitment strategy.

It found that the top three drivers are: attracting talent and enhancing diversity (77 per cent), supporting succession planning (70 per cent), and addressing skills shortages (12 per cent).

The report demonstrates that Graduate Apprenticeships are broadening and diversifying the talent pipeline, leading to better gender equality in tech roles.

Murray said that it is vital that employers continue to invest in Graduate Apprenticeships in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for digital skills. “The digital technology sector is forecasted to be the second fastest growing sector in Scotland to 2029. The number of tech businesses has increased by 60 per cent in the last eight years and there are now over 100,000 people working in technology roles. We need around 13,000 new people each year to fulfil employers’ technology vacancies.”

One company that has been using Graduate Apprenticeships to upskill the workforce and boost its internal talent pipeline is the information technology services and consultancy company Capgemini.

It has almost 700 employees in Scotland and faces significant challenges in recruiting skilled individuals in areas such as cyber security.

“We see supporting apprenticeships as a productive and effective route to growing our talent,” said MacBean.

“By investing in Graduate Apprenticeships in Scotland we are addressing skills shortages, particularly here in the Highlands. Apprenticeships allow us to upskill our current workforce and offer rewarding careers, which in return increases service quality and retention.”

Robertson is in her third year of the BSc Honours Graduate Apprenticeship in cyber security. “The biggest thing that I’ve always regretted is not going to university, so the opportunity to study work-based modules and learn more about my business sector really appealed to me.”

She added that she is gaining new skills and knowledge all the time while on the apprenticeship and enjoys being able to embed her learning in her day-to-day work.

MacBean thinks Robertson has benefited hugely from the Graduate Apprenticeship and that there is a ripple effect within the business. “Andrea’s learning has been applied daily. She is gaining insights and knowledge in areas that she previously did not have experience in.

“She has demonstrated a greater awareness at a technical and strategic level. And it has impacted on the wider team in lots of positive ways. It enables her to engage with clients and colleagues at a technical level, which has had a significant impact.”

To find out more about how the OU is supporting employers with their apprenticeships needs, visit here.

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