National Apprentices week has been full of examples of happy apprentices talking about why an apprenticeship was right for them and satisfied employers extolling the long-term value apprentices bring to their organisation. Long gone are the days when apprentices were seen as cheap labour who could be hired and fired at the whim of the employer.
The drive to make apprenticeships accessible and desirable for young people has been phenomenal, with young apprentice ambassadors going into local schools and colleges to promote the schemes. For young people, apprenticeships offer a practical and viable way into employment, without lumbering themselves with debts associated with university.
In the social housing sector, apprentices have tended to be used in two areas: construction and administration (although I’ve heard of a few housing associations celebrating customer services apprentices). But what about digital? Could housing associations use apprentices to help them to deliver on digital?
It’s a question that we started asking last year. We know from the resulting conversations with housing associations that many of them are well progressed on their digital journeys. They have strategies in place, metrics set and objectives to aim for.
What’s clear, though, is that if they want to deliver on digital, then having apprentices will help. Not only in delivering their objectives, it would help them in re-skilling existing members of staff, as well as in reducing their dependencies on consultants (and their associated costs).
So we’ve worked with Digital Skills Solutions to develop an apprenticeship scheme with two distinct apprentices: one focusing on data analysis, and the other on digital communications.
And we’ve had an amazingly positive response to the programme, with resident engagement as well as innovation teams asking us how they can take on apprentices. Working with a number of housing associations, we’re creating a pool of apprentices who will help them on their journey into a more digital future.
But, and there’s always a but, it has been a challenge. Conversations with some housing associations have stopped dead, not because of the nature of the offer, but because they tell us that new apprentices can’t be catered for within their existing organisational plans. Budgets have already been allocated. Plans have already been made. The computer says no.
The challenge we have for the sector is how can we help you break the mould? How can we help you take on the digital apprentices you need now, so you can start engaging with your tenants and understanding your data metrics? What do you need from us to change your internal conversations?
And then in next year’s National Apprentices week, we’ll be able to share your inspiring story of the digital apprentices who have helped to turn your digital evolution into a revolution.