We’re incredibly proud to announce the start of this year’s Degree Apprenticeship Programme – which is larger, more diverse and geographically-spread than ever before.

Being an Executive Sponsor for our apprenticeship and graduate initiatives, it’s a privilege to welcome 60 new standout young people to start the programme virtually; with apprentices collaborating, learning and working via Cisco Webex.

To celebrate this new tranche of apprentices, Gillian Keegan MP and Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, joined a launch event yesterday, to inspire and welcome them. Plus, later today Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, will join a session with Manchester-based apprentices to talk about the growing importance of digital skills in the region.

It’s an exciting and inspirational kick-off which encouraged me to think more about the role of apprenticeships in the UK today.

The role of apprenticeships in the UK

2020 is a tough time for young people to start out in the world of work. And yet, new data from Cisco and QA – one of the UK’s digital education and skills providers – found a huge amount of optimism amongst young people, keen to land a place on an apprenticeship programme.

In fact, 70% of the young people polled believe that apprenticeship opportunities will bounce back as companies return to work; and that there are many benefits to pursuing this route. Top of the list is learning new digital skills (58%); followed by making better decisions about their own career paths (57%). Half believe an apprenticeship will help them gain confidence in the workplace, too.

Minister – once an apprentice herself – agrees. She believes: Now, more than ever, it is vital that more people have the opportunity to learn and develop the digital skills for the jobs of the future. Doing an apprenticeship is an excellent way to do this and can open the door to a wide range of exciting and rewarding careers.”

It’s this exposure to a wide range of careers that we also passionately believe in. That’s why at Cisco we built a programme which is a journey around the organisation; helping apprentices to discover their personal strengths, business interests and a sustainable career path. We believe this approach is what led to 90% of apprentices staying with Cisco over the last nine years.

Powering an inclusive future, through apprenticeships

Removing inequities and creating new pathways to power an inclusive future is more vital than it has ever been. 80% of those applying for apprenticeship places in the UK said businesses should place more emphasis on having a diverse intake.

At Cisco, our 2020 cohort is 47% female, 42% from minority ethnic groups and 35% from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. However, we must all, always, strive to do more.

We gain huge value from our apprentices’ new thinking, cultural diversity and fresh energy. They are the future leaders; and we need to make sure they all have the opportunities to help re-build a prosperous and thriving environment for everyone.

In fact, our survey data also comes with a strong call to action. 67% of those seeking apprenticeship opportunities believe the pandemic has impacted their chances of securing a placement; and 90% believe more UK businesses should be offering apprenticeship programmes, especially going forward.

With the updated apprenticeship levy coming into force on the 1st August, many businesses may now consider creating an apprenticeship programme for the first time – our advice for them is twofold. Firstly, endeavour to work with partners who can help you attract a diverse cohort and create new pathways to power an inclusive future. Secondly, build a comprehensive programme, working with all parts of the business, to ensure young people are equipped with the experiences they need to become future industry leaders.

As I reflect on what’s next for our young people in the post-pandemic workplace, I believe that degree apprenticeships and T-levels will be critical not just for them but for the UK economy, too. There’s a lot of talent out there – let’s harness it.