How Digital Degree Apprenticeships are addressing Wales’ digital skills shortage


With many employers urgently in need of staff with advanced digital skills, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David is offering a solution that benefits both employers and their employees.

Julian Milligan will start the second year of his Digital Degree Apprenticeship in Computing (Software Engineering) in September and is a Senior Applications Developer for Carmarthenshire County Council.

Employers in Wales are facing a digital skills crisis: according to YouGov, in 2021 41% of employers said they struggle to recruit workers with the advanced digital skills that they need and 76% of employers said the digital skills shortage would affect the profitability of their business.

The Digital Degree Apprenticeships offered by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) provide a solution – and the university’s Apprenticeship Unit has organised a breakfast event on June 9 for employers interested in finding out how to grow their future workforce and to upskill their current workforce via this cost-effective route.

“Enrolling an employee on a Digital Degree Apprenticeship costs the employer nothing in terms of direct capital investment – the only cost is releasing them so that they can study,” says UWTSD Apprenticeship Development Officer Sara Bickel. “The team at the University works closely with employers and apprentices to identify any issues in terms of work conflicts, and they carefully choose deadline dates for assessments and exams with work commitments in mind.”

Digital Degree Apprenticeships have multiple benefits for employers and their employees. The scheme can help employers retain and nurture talent by enabling career progression within the same company. The apprentices also bring back valuable skills and knowledge that can be applied within the organisation without the need for costly consultancy fees.

“Employers who have already adopted this pathway tell us they see the Digital Degree Apprenticeships as a sustainable way to create a talent pipeline, especially for businesses going through any period of growth,” says Sara. “Many digital apprentices become role models or agents of change for their businesses, often encouraging peers more nervous about change to upskill. They offer a different perspective, fresh learning and topical research that can be implemented immediately into current business operations or new or existing projects.”

At Carmarthenshire Council, UWTSD Digital Degree Apprentice Julian Milligan, a Senior Applications Developer, has been using his skills to support local communities and most recently during the pandemic, sharing vital expertise and knowledge to create innovative ways of responding to the crisis.

Ben Grice, Digital Solutions manager at Carmarthenshire County Council says: “Our apprentice Julian, has applied the skills learned on the course, in particular in the area of Software Development where he has developed various applications such as Parking Permit bookings and Occupational Health referrals. He is making good progress and the SQL skills learned have been very useful for projects such as Household Waste Recycling Centre live bookings.”

Studying theory on a university course can have enormous real-world value, as Sam Jackson, an apprentice on the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Digital Degree Apprenticeship scheme recently demonstrated in his job working for Velindre University NHS Trust.

Samuel Jackson has introduced several innovative digital solutions to the NHS Velindre Digital Services Department during his apprenticeship.

“I would absolutely recommend the Digital Degree Apprenticeship route,” he says. “I would like to see more awareness of it as an option straight from school. I do not think it is a Plan B option - in my opinion it is right up there with full time university. When I finish my apprenticeship, I am going to finish with four to five years’ experience and a degree, at the same time that my peers would be finishing with a maximum of about a year to 18 months’ industry experience. When you consider the experience/qualification balance, I could not advocate for it enough.”

Emma Williams, ICT Technical Officer in the ICT and Corporate Policy Division at Carmarthenshire County Council, discovered the digital degree apprenticeships after an email arrived at the council’s ICT section in 2019, giving information about Welsh Government funding to support eligible employees to undertake a degree.

“I immediately jumped at the chance to apply for the BSc in Computing (Computer Networks & Cybersecurity) pathway, as I thought this was a fantastic opportunity,” she says.

She has found her studies rewarding on multiple levels.

“One significant benefit is the increase in confidence I have gained,” she says. “I now have the confidence to attend university events to discuss my journey, speak up in work meetings and liaise with others in a more confident manner.”

She started the degree while working as an ICT Digital Support Engineer, and her studies gave her the boost she needed to apply for the role of ICT Technical Officer.

“I am very lucky that my employer is so encouraging and supportive of us Digital Degree Apprenticeship students, enabling us to grow as employees,” she says. “We bring what we learn and experience back into the workplace and contribute to the service.”

Daniel Lewis, Chairman at Awen Collective, an ethical high-growth business that develops cyber security software for industrial organisations and their supply chains, plans

to explore degree apprenticeships for his own business, and perhaps contribute to teaching and training of digital degree apprentices around cyber security.

“Degree level education in general is incredibly important within technical disciplines,” he says. “It's a foundation, not only for doing a job but for providing critical thinking essential for innovating in digital.”

At the June 9 breakfast event he will be giving a talk on the digital skills gap, in particular within the cyber security and industrial sectors.

“I'm looking forward to discussing the possibilities with the university and with other businesses,” he says.

Without initiatives such as the Digital Degree Apprenticeships, the digital skills gap is unlikely to go away; business’ need for advanced skills is set to increase as our digital world becomes more sophisticated, and a talent pipeline of people with the right abilities is urgently needed.

“The degree apprenticeship programme has been created to resolve an acute high-level skills shortage prevailing in the UK, notably within the digital sector,” says Barry Liles, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Skills & Lifelong Learning) at UWTSD. “It is accessed by both new entrants to the sector as part of their career progression, and for upskilling the existing workforce where employers have identified skills gaps.

“The programmes provide a bespoke solution for both the apprentice and the employer. It provides for skills competence acquisition with a direct impact on the businesses finances as live projects are undertaken as part of the apprentice development programme.”

The June 9 breakfast event aims to spread the word about the possibilities offered by the Digital Degree Apprenticeships, to showcase how employers are utilising the programme to recruit their future workforce and to demonstrate how the programme has provided organisations with highly motivated and skilled employees

“The event is open to and appropriate to a broad range of employers, from small to medium enterprises to large multi-nationals and public sector organisation,” says Barry Liles. “It is purpose designed to raise employers’ awareness about the structure, content and benefit of the programme and to highlight the potential advantage to the employer through engagement with the University.”

Sara added: “Employers will be able to see how other businesses are benefiting from it,” she says. “They will see how it can help with their skills and recruitment issues and it will be a valuable networking opportunity as well as a chance to see what others are doing. I think for many it will be the validation they need that this is the right step forward.”

Further Information

Rebecca Davies

Swyddog Gweithredol Cysylltiadau â’r Wasg a’r Cyfryngau

Executive Press and Media Relations Officer

Cyfathrebu Corfforaethol a Chysylltiadau Cyhoeddus

Corporate Communications and PR

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