UKFast chief executive praises apprenticeships

The chief executive of data hosting company UKFast has called on technology companies to solve the nationwide skills shortage themselves through apprenticeships.

Lawrence Jones, chief executive and co-founder of Manchester-headquartered UKFast, told the Financial Times that apprenticeships have helped his company to attract new recruits while taking charge of their training.

He said: “We have put in a huge amount of money but it has worked for us. It is so expensive to recruit and apprentices are loyal because you have put the time into their training.”

More than 15% of UKFast’s 400-strong workforce is made up of former or current apprentices, just four years after the company launched its apprenticeship scheme.

According to the Financial Times, UKFast spends £1 million of its more than £40 million in annual turnover on apprentices and projects with schools.

Jones’s intervention comes as apprenticeship starts over the seven months to February 2018 plummeted to 232,700, significantly down from the 309,000 recorded during the same period the year before.

Businesses have largely blamed the apprenticeship levy, which they say was poorly designed and is too costly.

Employers with annual wage bills of more than £3 million must contribute 0.5% of their pay bill into a fund each month, which can be re-invested in apprenticeship training for their business. For every £1 contributed, the government adds 10p.

An employer with an annual wage bill under £3 million doesn’t need to pay the levy—but the government will still fund 90% towards the cost of their apprenticeship training.

There is much more that teachers, students and parents can do, too, according to UKFast’s Jones.

Speaking at the end of May, he said: “We work with more than 60,000 pupils and students across Greater Manchester and beyond, and held more than 400 education events last year. During these events, we’re hearing that apprenticeships simply aren’t being pushed as a proud higher education option in the same way that university is. This absolutely has to change!”

“We see huge opportunities in our industry for apprentices to progress extremely quickly and gain relevant, work-ready skills directly from professionals. On the other hand we also see graduates coming through university who are not at the same experience level and almost need to start again.”

This is in part down to the pace of change within technology education. Jones said: “It is virtually impossible for universities to offer the same level of work-ready skills that apprenticeships can simply because of the rate of change in the industry. New curriculums take time to be approved to ensure that graduates meet the needs of the workforce. Apprenticeships are more flexible and learners are immersed in the tech from day one. The difference is staggering.

“On top of the level of training there’s also the question of debt. If an apprentice earns £16,000 a year for the first two years and then between £26,000 and £30,000 in the third year, which is the case for a great many of our apprentices at UKFast, they are likely to be nearly £100,000 better off than a student finishing a three year undergraduate degree.”

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