The growing adoption of innovative communication technology in business is rapidly fuelling demand for today's young workforce to possess voice, IT and business skills. While businesses become more technologically-centred, the communication skill gap of young unemployed people grows, making it harder for local businesses to find trained employees and even more so, for young people to find work. In less than 12 months, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has united West Herts College, Watford-based Freedom Communications and Microsoft IT Academy, a dynamic private-public partnership, to create an innovative apprenticeship scheme that is actively addressing a growing skills gap for the benefit of local businesses.

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The Drive for Partnership

Freedom Communications delivers communication and network technologies, such as Microsoft's Lync to over 1,000 companies in the UK, playing an active part in the UK's growing communication technology market, valued at £6.6bn. Unified Communication Technology (UCT) skills are new in the UK so Freedom spotted an urgent need for specialist training to be provided to young people, early in their careers. What better way to address the employer/employee UCT dilemma, by synonymously developing young peoples' employability skills, and filling a pool of appropriately trained employees for firms to dip into!     

Paving the way with a proactive passion for people development, West Herts College welcomed the opportunity to work with Freedom to give their students the training and tools to enhance their communication technology skills and employability skills. Duncan Murray, Deputy Principal of West Herts College recounts:

"Working in partnership with ambitious companies like Freedom is the ideal way for West Herts College to help drive innovation and growth in the region. Higher-level apprenticeships offer a genuine alternative to higher education, keeping local expertise in the local economy and offering careers with great earning potential.”

Meeting at the Watford Business Growth Forum, Freedom and WCH quickly realized they shared a passion for skills and people development and formed a partnership with Microsoft to support and inspire young people in developing their UCT skills with Lync.

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The Apprenticeship Scheme

Working together, Freedom, WHC and Microsoft have created a tailored Apprenticeship Scheme through the Microsoft IT Academy, that meets not only Freedom’s specific requirements for talent, but addresses the skills gap by developing a skilled workforce and foundation for excellent career prospects.

The level 4 Lync apprenticeship offered by West Herts College has been designed to focus on developing transferrable business skills, delivering live enterprise challenges alongside ITIL foundation and SDI accreditations, to prepare students for a career option at Freedom. We are thrilled to announce the first scheme in July 2013 is already set to appoint two apprentices.

This dynamic scheme has been made reality by Freedom investing in both skills participation and infrastructure, including a dynamic work environment, acquisition of key resources including Lync trainers and the design and development of learning frameworks, learning standards and outcomes for its college work experience placements.

Paul Witcombe of Herts LEP sheds light on some of the wider benefits of the scheme:

"The promotion of the skills agenda and in particular an emphasis on apprenticeships is key to our strategy to drive business led economic growth. Employer-led investments are the best approach to achieving growth. Investment as part of this project will have an immediate and sustainable impact on private sector jobs growth in the local area.”

Benefits in Abundance

Perhaps most exciting is the broad impact the apprenticeship scheme will have:

Young people will be better prepared to meet industry demand for ICT skills, and considerably increase career and salary prospects.

As for the ICT Sector, business growth will be supported by increasing availability of high-demand Lync skills.

The Hertfordshire region will provide new employment opportunities for young people, where almost three times the number of 18-24 year olds are out of work compared to 25-49 year olds

Finally, the UK economy will be enhanced with services skills that ensure home-grown talent stays within UK organisations, so revenue opportunities remain in the UK

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Opportunities for the Future

Within Hertfordshire, it is anticipated that Freedom, WHC and Microsoft will expand its apprenticeship scheme to involve WHC feeder schools, offering skills development and career support to inspire younger learners considering an ICT career. Plans are also afoot to introduce a Traineeship scheme at WHC, alongside the Apprenticeship, providing work experience and technical and business skills training.

But you might be asking yourself how the scheme could help your local area?

While this project focuses initially on the Watford locality, Freedom, WHC and Microsoft have created a blueprint for private-public partnerships that can be adopted by other local enterprises to benefit the UK. This includes replicating the scheme in Leeds, where Freedom’s secondary office is located, and expanding the number of annual apprentice recruits over time.

We are thrilled to enlighten you with the social benefits of the Apprenticeship Scheme and would encourage you to share and explore the plan with the schools, students and local authority in your local area. 

I will leave you with one final statement from Chris Luff, Director of Freedom Communications:

"The partnership is a springboard to future accelerated growth for Freedom and will ensure WHC can develop a training approach that is sustainable beyond the scope of our initial project, to be a leading light in skills transfer and learning.”