imageAs part of the Britain Works program, Microsoft’s DPE and Citizenship teams have been working with training company QA and e-skills UK to develop a year-long Modern Apprenticeship in Software Development.

According to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, small and medium-sized enterprises (between 0 and 249 employees) accounted for 99.9% of all enterprises in 2011. In their Quarterly Labour Market Review, e-skills UK state that there are fewer candidates and a rising number of IT job openings. The number of advertised vacancies for IT&T staff rose to 105,000 positions with the primary roles sought by employers being Design and Development jobs.

No less than four years ago, Dominic Gill from the Britain Works team looked into how Microsoft could address the skills gap and attract new people into the IT industry other than graduates, specifically working with Microsoft partners who were open to taking on an apprentice:

“We were in a position to suggest what should be on the curriculum, confirm what Microsoft certifications should be included and look at what units are relevant to specific partner groups. I worked closely with Terry Killer, one of the UK Skills Managers whose job is to ensure Microsoft certifications map to the UK qualification framework so our certifications can be included in BTEC's, apprenticeships, etc.”

The Apprentice program offers employers an alternative route for on-boarding their next generation talent at the ground floor, and nurturing skills on the job. Today there are five different Microsoft partner apprenticeship programmes:

  • Desktop support (the first to be delivered)
  • .NET Software & Web Development
  • Technical sales
  • Database Support (SQL Infrastructure)
  • Server

There may be more – if there are other skills Microsoft partners are looking for Dominic will create an apprentice programme to help fill the gap.

With the .NET Developer Apprenticeship, which kicked off a year ago, the need was clear – lots of jobs but not enough people coming through standard education routes to fill the roles. It was imperative to understand what small and medium sized businesses needed from their developers and create apprenticeships to ensure those businesses get the skilled staff they need.

“We ran a series of workshops to get partner input into what they'd like to see from an apprenticeship programme - what would be the expectations for brand new team members who have never done a role like this before?  What roles are available? What would the apprentices need to learn to make them useful from the start? What would the scope and structure be?”

The Microsoft Developer Platform Evangelist (DPE) team worked with QA to design the 8 week training program in boot camp style that takes school-leavers from zero to junior .NET coder over the course of their first 12 months in the job. I caught up with Ben Sweetman from QA to get more details:

“Fundamentally, the objective of the software development apprenticeship is to create junior developers over 12 months, kicking off with an intensive 3 week boot-camp to provide the initial training.”

“The camp needs to be immersive as apprentices are completely new to development and there's lots to learn. The training is highly practical, it’s designed to get you writing code from the start – apprentices write their first Hello World post within the first hour, learning C#, how to use Visual Studio, and working with the .NET framework. The second 3 week boot camp gets apprentices building web applications using ASP.NET MVC. There’s also an element of back end development, using SQL server (data layers). It’s not just about coding, in the workshops we want apprentices to understand about developing requirements, the development lifecycle, agile development, testing and understanding what the client wants. We get them into real world software development quickly and early - by week five they'll be in the business writing code.”

Partners who took on apprentices have been pleasantly surprised with what these junior developers have achieved. Most of them exceed the expectations employers had at the beginning of the programme. There are currently 100+ .NET developer apprentices employed by 50+ employers across the UK. Many senior developers mentor the apprentices during their employment to give them extra support and encouragement as well as the chance to specialise.

The programme is a classic win-win for both parties – the apprentice gets on the job development experience with real-world projects and the employer gets to trial people very low risk, with the ability to develop them to meet their needs.