Summer, 2019

Franklin Apprenticeships co-founder Dominic Gill has developed some of the most successful skills management training programs for world leading IT companies.

Dominic discusses his work with Microsoft Apprenticeships to help solve the UK’s IT/digital skilled labor shortages in the case study interview below.

Company:

Microsoft UK

Challenge:

A shortage of skilled talent for Microsoft’s partners and customers.

Solution:

Microsoft Apprenticeships: A program designed by and for Microsoft partners and customers to cover the most in-demand ICT roles and requirements.

  • Develop a program that offers job seekers a solid foundation to a fast-tracked career.
  • Drive greater productivity and diversified skills for employers.
  • Train and equip the next generation of IT experts with the relevant skills and experience to strengthen the UK’s IT sector.

Impact:

  • Microsoft Apprenticeships have been offered by over 7,000 Microsoft Partner Employers since 2010.
  • From 2010 to 2018, over 20,000 people have started an IT/digital career through the program, establishing it as a mature and proven model that is a viable talent acquisition option for employers and an attractive career strategy for young people.

Goal:

  • Help more individuals access IT/digital careers.
  • Enable employers to widen their talent pool.
  • Address critical shortages of IT/digital specialists.

L&R Communications: When most think of apprenticeships, what comes to mind is more specific to trade unions, as opposed to IT programs. Wasn’t it unique to see a company such as Microsoft take this route?

Dom: I think the first thing that’s worth pointing out is: Apprenticeships in the UK are more established, especially in more nontraditional routes than they are perhaps 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.

L&R Communications: What made Microsoft decide to begin with the partner network?

Dom: Both in the US and the UK — and across the globe — Microsoft has 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 partners to bring new people into the sector, it was going to negatively impact their competitive advantage.

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, we find that 93% of the people who start these programs are continuing in employment with the same employer.

L&R Communications: Well that sounds like an obvious solution. Employers need skilled workers. Individuals want a path to a secure, high paying career without incurring lots of debt. Tell me a little bit about how the program works. Is the set up and recruitment similar to 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 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 question should be: If they follow the structured training, support, and assessment that is included within the program, will they have a long-term future with our business? And if the answer is yes, then they’re definitely an ideal candidate. 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.  From the company’s perspective, an internship also isn’t necessarily a permanent talent acquisition solution.

L&R 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 only talking about 20 apprentices per year. We’re currently at a run rate of around 6,000 apprentices starting per year through the Microsoft channel. So, we’ve worked to brand these programs. We’ve considered: What would be the common roles that sit across Microsoft’s partners and customers?  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 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.

L&R Communications: Wow. You’re giving companies the opportunity to build farm teams — much like in the minor baseball leagues — where employers can recruit young talent and train them directly under the tutelage of the organization, so that they are better prepared to perform a job. The results so far have 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. These are ways in which companies can build their future workforce. I mentioned that we’ve now hit 6,000 apprentices through programs across the UK partners, per year.  In 2017, Microsoft announced a further ambition – a continued commitment that between 2017 and the end of 2020 – to add 30,000 more apprentices through this route. That meant doubling the current year-on-year run rate. We feel strongly obliged to honor that ambition and are excited about the possibilities it represents.

L&R Communications: Microsoft released a white paper at the end of last year in which they interviewed employers and apprentices to gather updated program feedback. Can you provide some insight into the research findings?

Dom: Sure. The impact of the program on businesses is significant. In fact, companies hiring apprentices have noted a significant increase in the monetary impact from 2015 to 2018: £11,782 in 2015 to £36,840 in 2018.

And, since 2015, the program has improved in all comparable measures, including enabling more diversity. Employers experience a broader skills base, better client services, and more inspired and committed workforce.

  • 83% of employers say they would recommend the program to other employers.
  • 74% of employers say the program has allowed them to gain highly committed staff.
  • 77% of employers say the program has made their employees more diverse overall.

A fascinating finding is that over the past three years, the reason employers cite for joining the program has shifted from cost-saving to value creation. While the cost-saving was the initial attraction – and a significant benefit – 69% of employers now cite training and supporting young people as a top driver.  And 60% are vested in bringing on their people to fill the industry’s future workforce.

  • Current apprentices estimate that they earn 31% more annually because of the program, equating to approximately £5,200 more in annual salary.
  • 75% of current apprentices say the program gives them more financial independence compared to their peers, i.e. the opportunity to start their career free of university debt.
  • 90% of current apprentices say the program gives them the opportunity to jumpstart their career.
  • 86% of current apprentices also said the program gives them a strong knowledge base.
  • 72% of current apprentices believe the program will help them achieve a higher socio-economic status than their parents.

L&R Communications: I understand your company, Intequal, will be providing the technical training component to Franklin’s US Digital Apprenticeship programs. How do you think the experience gleaned and lessons learned from these UK programs could benefit US employers?

Dom: Although the training content delivered should not be greatly different from that currently offered in the US, Intequal is able to structure the training to ensure it meets the knowledge requirements of apprenticeships.  This means aligning with occupational competency milestones agreed with employers to ensure the apprentice properly applies what they learn in the workplace, and are able to incrementally build their bank of knowledge against the training they receive.  This way they gain a deeper understanding of what they need to do to become fully productive in their chosen role in as short a time as possible — essentially learning whilst doing. Employers benefit from more technically proficient employees who not only fully understand their role and skillset, but are also embedded within their company culture.


To learn more about Microsoft UK’s Apprenticeship program and how Franklin Apprenticeships is leveraging the UK model for their expanding Digital Apprenticeships program in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Missouri, please contact us.

Next up: In part 2 of our interview, Franklin Apprenticeship’s CEO, Kim Nichols, discusses the current state of middle skill IT apprenticeships here in the US: What opportunities exist to offer quality program funding, planning, support, and execution to American business owners and job seekers, today?

Also, in our new podcast series, we interview Frank Valdivieso, President and CEO of Gryphon Consulting in Maryland, and President of the DC Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), to discuss how our Digital Apprenticeship program will enhance his overall business success. Listen to our podcast here.