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BCS report reveals SMEs struggle to hire AI and digital apprentices

Published: 26/06/2024

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are calling for financial assistance from the next government to train more apprentices in AI, cybersecurity, and data skills, according to new research by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

While the number of digital apprentices grew by 50% last year, smaller UK businesses are struggling to hire more due to bureaucratic and funding obstacles, the BCS report has found.

The study, which includes data from a YouGov poll, found that 66% of businesses view digital apprenticeships as effective in addressing digital skills gaps in England. But, over half (55%) of the respondents believe that better financial incentives for employers would make digital apprenticeships more attractive to both businesses and prospective apprentices.

The research suggests that government grants or tax breaks could be a ‘huge motivator’ to get more digital apprentices into small organisations.

A notable barrier identified is the 5% 'co-funding' requirement for non-levy paying organisations to take on apprentices. Removing this requirement could reduce the disproportionate impact on SMEs.

The BCS report, ‘Future of Digital Apprenticeships,’ recommends protecting the Apprenticeship Levy while reforming aspects that are not working. For example, the Apprenticeship Levy had £2.178 billion in unused funds for 2022-23, which the Department for Education returned to the Treasury since the Levy started across the UK in 2017.

To secure the necessary digital apprentices needed over the next five years, the BCS says it is important for SMEs to participate, which will require both policy changes and financial support.

The BCS notes that despite universities successfully attracting students to computing degrees, there is a need for a diverse and inclusive range of pathways into the IT profession and the broader digital economy. This effort should also focus on re-skilling individuals over 50, who are currently underrepresented in tech jobs.

To read the full report, please visit the BCS website.