AI interest is fueling a surge in digital apprenticeships across the UK

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The government’s aim to increase the number of digital apprenticeships appears to be paying off

Surging interest in artificial intelligence (AI) is fueling a rise in digital apprenticeships across the UK, according to new research from BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and UCAS.

Analysis of government figures shows the number of new digital apprentices has risen by 10% while new BCS data highlighted a 27% year-on-year increase of IT apprenticeships.

The figure includes ‘encouraging’ first figures for completions of the new AI Data Specialist apprenticeship, underlining a growing interest in the technology, according to Annette Allmark, director of learning and development at BCS.

“The shortage of tech skills costs the UK economy and its workers billions yearly. Digital apprenticeships are an effective way of boosting the tech talent pipeline, especially for underrepresented groups,” she said.

“We know more people are applying for and completing digital apprenticeships, and we believe the popularity of emerging technologies like AI is fueling that increase.”

Meanwhile, new analysis from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) finds that exactly half of those who applied to study computing through the UCAS Hub in 2023 also expressed an interest in an apprenticeship – up slightly from 46.8% in 2022.

This, UCAS said, follows a pattern of increased demand for places on computing undergraduate courses at universities, with 17,525 UK 18-year-olds gaining places this year – a rise of 5.3% on 2022 figures. Computing was the seventh most popular course, with 94,870 applications last year, up from 86,630 the year before.

“We know that exactly half of the students who applied for computing courses last year were interested in apprenticeships, but more roles are needed as demand grows among young students making their post-16 choices,” said Sander Kristel, UCAS chief operating officer.

“UCAS is committed to supporting students’ aspirations by making them aware of all the options available to them, with our new apprenticeship service, the most relevant apprenticeship opportunities for them alongside higher education courses.”

Apprenticeships are available at different levels, starting from a GCSE equivalent to a university degree equivalent. Training can last from 12 months to five years.

But while the government has been encouraging employers to offer them, a report published last year following an inquiry led by Lord Knight and Lord Willetts found that engineering and technology-related apprenticeship starts for 16 to 18-year-olds had fallen by nearly a quarter since 2016-2017, with new starts among both 19 to 24-year-olds and those over 25 falling by 6%.

The report called on the government to do more to increase the status of apprenticeships as opposed to degree courses, and provide better support and funding.

These calls are echoed by BCS and UCAS, both of which are urging the government to increase investment in apprenticeship programmes to help bridge the digital skills gap.

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