Addressing rising demand for digital skills to be delivered through apprenticeships

Emerging trends and challenges

The world of work is undergoing a substantial transformation due to new forces. In particular, technological advances, such as AI, automation and robotics, have produced numerous new opportunities, but also given rise to urgent challenges. While new jobs are constantly being created with the emergence of the digital economy, many jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete. Digital innovations will rapidly change the demand for skills, thereby creating a wider skills gap that has the potential to hold back economic growth. Skills for the digital economy may require apprenticeship programmes at higher education level.

Apprenticeships have the potential to reduce the skills gap by equipping individuals with the skills needed to adapt to the emerging digital economy, especially first-time jobseekers and those whose jobs may become obsolete during this transition. In fact, apprenticeship programmes are already no longer confined to traditional manual occupations, as their scope to provide an effective and efficient training model is also being increasingly recognized in the technological sector.

In an attempt to better equip students with the skills needed in the digital economy, some universities have started to incorporate apprenticeships into their degree programmes. Through a combination of work placement and part-time study, these new apprenticeship models offer students the chance to attain a bachelor’s or master’s degree qualification while completing an apprenticeship (see box 7.2). This collaboration between industries and higher education can attract top talents to participate in apprenticeships and respond to the actual needs of companies, especially in terms of digital skills. The curricula of digital apprenticeships typically cover a variety of digital skills, including cyber security, big data, software engineering, digital banking, IT skills for the automotive industry, etc. Several examples of these new apprenticeship models are described in detail below.

Box 7.2 Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeships: Employers–universities partnership for digital careers

Tech Partnership Degrees is a not-for-profit organization which unites employers and universities to improve the flow of talent into the digital workforce. As a UK Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB), it operates Tech Industry Gold, the industry accreditation for digital and technology higher education, creating high-quality degrees and degree apprenticeships that meet employer-defined standards for content, delivery and assessment.

Digital degree apprenticeships, designed by leading employers in the digital sector, equip apprentices for work in a wide range of graduate-level technology roles, including cyber security analyst, data analyst, business analyst, network engineer, software engineer and many more. In 2019, there were over 1,600 degree apprentices on Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeships, employed by more than 80 companies.


Warwick Manufacturing Group1

As a part of the University of Warwick, Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) was founded in 1980 to improve the competitiveness of industries through innovation and the development of new technology and skills. Currently, WMG provides degree-level apprenticeship modules, including five undergraduate courses and three postgraduate courses in the field of digital technologies. The five undergraduate courses are Applied Engineering, Cyber Security Engineering, Digital Healthcare Science, Digital and Technology Solutions and Engineering, with a duration of three to four years. Apprentices are employed by companies such as Dyson and Jaguar Land Rover, where they are given the opportunity to learn skills on the job.

The three postgraduate courses are Engineering Business Management, Senior Leadership and Systems Engineering Technical Leadership, with a duration of two-and-a-half to three years. Similarly, apprentices complete some of their postgraduate modules through on-the-job training in companies like GE Aviation and Royal Mail Group.

Apprentices do not pay fees to the universities. Instead, they receive remuneration of between £16,000 and £25,000 per year. The details of two WMG undergraduate courses are provided below (for more examples, please follow the link in the footnote).

  • BEng Engineering with Dyson: a four-year programme that covers essential skills for the digital economy, including agile software development, cyber risk in organizations, data science and machine learning, and electronics manufacturing and assembly.
  • BEng Applied Engineering with Jaguar Land Rover: a four-year programme that focuses on high-level digital skills, especially through courses such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and electrical and electronic systems.

University of Exeter and J.P. Morgan2

J.P. Morgan, a multinational investment bank and financial services company, partnered with the University of Exeter in October 2018 to offer the United Kingdom’s first apprenticeship degree programme in Applied Finance (Level 6). The programme covers areas ranging from securities to IT in investment operations and prepares apprentices to become financial services professionals with the essential skills for using digital banking products. A large proportion of the programme takes place at the workplace through projects linked to academic content, while some modules can also be completed by distance learning.


The multinational professional services company, Accenture, offers a BSc degree in Digital and Technology Solutions with a focus on one of the following specialisms: software engineering, data analysis or IT consulting. The four-year programme starts with the Level 4 Digital and Technology apprenticeship followed by Level 5 and 6 to complete the degree programme.


The Swiss bank, UBS, offers a four-year apprenticeship in Information Technology, which aims to deepen apprentices’ IT knowledge and allow them to acquire essential IT skills. As part of the training at UBS’ Zurich offices, apprentices have a choice of comprehensive training in one of three disciplines:

  • systems engineering: servers, operating systems, networks, hardware and software
  • application development: software development
  • mediamatics: digital media, design, maintenance and editing of websites, marketing, communication and administration.

On completion of the training, apprentices are awarded a Federal VET Diploma in Information Technology or Mediamatics.

AI Singapore Apprenticeship Programme4

The Artificial Intelligence Apprenticeship Programme (AIAP) is a national programme in Singapore, designed to address skills shortages in AI and machine learning through developing a strong pipeline of AI talent. The goal is to train 500 AI engineers over the next few years under the programme. Potential apprentices must have a keen interest in the area of machine learning and data science and either a polytechnic diploma or a university degree. The programme consists of two months of AI coursework (comprising hybrid classroom and self-directed learning) and seven months of on-the-job training on real-life issues in the AI industry, with apprentices mentored by professionals who work not just in AI, but also in big data and high performance computing. Successful completion of the AIAP equips apprentices with skills in the following areas: data modelling/tuning, data engineering, data product-related software engineering and cloud applications. A monthly stipend of SGD $3,500–$5,500 is paid during the nine months of training.

Box 7.3 provides an example of one of the IT companies that offers apprenticeships to address skills shortages by equipping apprentices with the required digital skills: Microsoft.

Box 7.3 Microsoft’s apprenticeship programme

Microsoft launched its apprenticeship programme in 2010 with the following three main objectives:

  1. to help more people access digital careers
  2. to enable employers to widen their talent pool, and
  3. to address critical shortages of digital specialists.

Microsoft apprenticeships cover the ICT roles and skills requirements that are most in demand. Microsoft offers a range of training in both business and technical environments, including a Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship in Digital Solutions Technology – a four-and-a-half-year programme designed for those aiming to start their careers in technology. On successful completion of an apprenticeship with Microsoft, apprentices receive a nationally recognized apprenticeship qualification and support to help them continue their career at Microsoft. The apprentices are also part of a community in which they receive continuous support throughout their apprenticeships.

Microsoft ensures that the programme is attractive to both employers and apprentices, and that the content is of high quality and relevant, thereby guaranteeing the programme’s credibility and recognition. Apart from apprentices and employers, the programme relies on the vital contribution of Microsoft learning partners, which include leading IT training providers in the United Kingdom, such as QA, Firebrand, Intequal and GK Apprenticeships. While Microsoft takes the lead in programme design and content creation, training is carried out by learning partners who maintain a direct relationship with apprentices and employers. Learning partners also assist employers in apprentice recruitment and engage prospective employers. At the same time, learning partners can benefit from such collaboration, as Microsoft’s reputation helps to extend their local reach.

Source: Microsoft, 2018.

1 See for further details.

3 Information collected and provided by GAN Global.