Franklin Apprenticeships co-founder Dominic Gill has developed some of the world’s most successful skills management training programs for  the biggest technology companies around the globe. And the main ingredient in his secret sauce: Apprenticeships.

Here, Dominic discusses his work with Microsoft UK as they embarked on a journey to solve skilled labor shortages, specifically in its network of supply-chain partners delivering Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services.

Company:

Microsoft UK

Challenge:

A shortage of skilled talent for Microsoft’s Partner Channel Network

Solution:

Attract, mentor, and retain aspiring young IT professionals to build critical career skills through real-life, applied knowledge workforce training programs as apprentices.

Impact:

  • Over 7,500 apprentices started their career through this route in over 5,000 employers since the program was rolled out nationally in 2010.
  • Current hits are > 3,500 apprentice starts per year
  • 92% of apprentices stay with the company with which they started their apprenticeship

Goal:

Microsoft UK’s goal is for the program to become the established, alternative route to university for young people entering a career in IT working with Microsoft technologies.

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JA Communications: I have certainly heard about apprenticeship programs. But when I think of apprenticeships, what comes to mind is more along the lines of trade unions, as opposed to IT programs such as this. Wasn’t it rare to see a company like Microsoft take this route?

Dom: I think the first thing that’s worth pointing out is this: Apprenticeships in the UK are more established, especially in more nontraditional routes than they are in the US.  Apprenticeships have been around in their current format since the former Prime Minister Tony Blair era. In the UK, we have a pedigree in looking at nontraditional apprenticeships.

However, I would say in the IT sector, they were not necessarily a recognized route. The reason that Microsoft got involved was primarily to solve a talent acquisition issue in its partner channel.

JA Communications:  What made them decide to begin with the partner network?
Dom: Microsoft has both in the US and the UK – and across the globe – channel partners that work to support, develop on or resell its technology. In the UK, that equates to in the region of 25,000 partners.

In order for these partners to grow and, indeed, for them to grow the Microsoft activity they share, Microsoft understood that it was critical for their partners to have access to talent with the right skill set. But, they were finding that there weren’t sufficient numbers of new talent coming into the sector and, as a result, there was a smaller pond to fish in — especially in new areas such as cloud technology and cyber security. That smaller pond also resulted in salary inflation, which resulted in losing talent to competitive rivals. If Microsoft couldn’t help its partners bring new people into the sector, their competitive advantage would be negatively impacted.

So, first and foremost, we addressed these problems as a business issue in the partner channel. We focused on identifying key common roles that went across the channel that could be, if you like, apprenticeable.  Our objective was to bring new people in at the technician level – potentially straight from school. We would provide them the necessary learning they needed to become competent, and to perform the role that was required of them; but to do that in a structured way. So, that’s essentially the program that we built. And it’s been an incredibly successful program, today.

On the other side of it, of course, this has been a great way to attract new people into the IT sector. It gives young people a fantastic opportunity – young people who might have otherwise been overlooked. Maybe academic learning didn’t suit them at that time in their lives. That’s not to say they weren’t graduate caliber. But, for various reasons, it wasn’t an option for them. What we did was provide them the most fantastic opportunity to get a job from the start, to earn while they learn, and to develop a career. In fact, 93% of the people who start these programs are continuing in employment with the same employer.

JA Communications: Well, I have to tell you, that sounds like an obvious solution. Employers need skilled workers. Young people want a good path to a good job without incurring lots of debt. Tell me a little bit how the program works. Is it pretty similar to setting up and recruiting for internship programs?

Dom: Actually, that’s a really interesting point. I’d say that the mechanics are similar to setting up an internship, but, I think the practicalities are different. And I think there’s one major conceptual difference in that an apprenticeship should be seen as a permanent talent acquisition strategy – so, a permanent talent acquisition solution. That’s not necessarily the case of an internship.

I think when employers are recruiting for apprenticeships, they need to consider whether candidates have the innate strength to go through an apprenticeship program. One important question employers should ask: If they follow the structured training, support, and assessment that is included within the program, will the candidate have a long-term future with our business? And if the answer is yes, then they’re definitely ideal candidates. I would also argue that they shouldn’t expect these individuals to have bags of experience – because they won’t. That’s what the apprenticeship is there for. They need to identify candidates who’ve got that innate strength.

So, I would say that’s a bit different than an internship where you are expecting somebody who’s probably completed a year or so at university, already. Somebody who has some skills, and the internship is a way in which they’re going to build on those skills, and augment them.  And from the company’s perspective, an internship isn’t necessarily a permanent talent acquisition solution, whereas an apprenticeship is.

JA Communications:  Once you finish vetting the candidates, what’s next? You mentioned that most of the new apprenticeships are coming in with little to no formal skills training or experience.  It sounds fairly simple, but how did Microsoft determine the credential pathways for the apprentices, create scalable models, and then ensure the programs were the right ones?

How this program works is pretty simple. Microsoft itself has, to date, only taken on a very small handful. I’m talking only about 20 apprentices per year. We’re currently at a run rate of 4,500 apprentices per year through the partner channel. So, we’ve worked to brand these programs. What would be the common roles that sit across Microsoft’s partners? What roles would be in demand and, consequently, what would then be the common and core Microsoft credential pathways to fit the roles?

We then work with focus groups of relevant Microsoft Partners to align the roles to the certifications.  This not only gives the apprentices globally recognized industry credentials but ensures they acquire a skillset that will enable them to be productive more quickly for the employers who are investing in them – essentially providing an significant ROI for employers!  We then work with a select group of Microsoft Learning Partners to interpret these specs into deliverable programs and support them in rolling the programs out into the Channel.

JA Communications: Wow. You’re giving companies the opportunity to build farm teams – just like in the baseball minor leagues – where they can pull young people trained directly under the tutelage of the organization, so that they really are prepared to step into a job. Have the results so far been positive? Can you expand a little bit on some of the future goals?

Dom: Yeah. Definitely. I’ll just quickly point out that the way that these programs are delivered are through a group of intermediary training providers. We equip these providers to deliver the programs, but you’re absolutely right. This is exactly how companies can build their future workforce. I mentioned that we’ve now hit 4,500 apprentices through programs across the UK partners, per year. Microsoft announced, just a few weeks ago, a further ambition – a continued commitment that between now (the start of 2017) and the end of 2020, they’re looking to add 30,000 more apprentices through this route. That means doubling the year-on-year run rate that we have currently. We feel strongly obliged to honor that ambition, and are excited about the possibilities it represents.

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To learn more about Microsoft UK’s Apprenticeship program, download the Microsoft Case Study FACT sheet, or contact Dom and Kim, directly.

Next up:  In Part 2 of our interview, Franklin Apprenticeship’s CEO, Kim Nichols, discusses the current state of affairs here in the US: What opportunities exist to offer programs like this for American youth and companies?