A new Government service that gives companies more control over their apprenticeship schemes in a bid to boost skills has been launched using Azure.
The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), an Executive Agency of the Department for Education (DfE), has unveiled the apprenticeship service, which is designed to be a one-stop-shop for employers to manage every aspect of taking on and training such staff.
The Government is keen to boost the numbers of skilled workers across the UK. A recent report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation revealed that employers in the UK are struggling to fill vacancies after the sharpest drop for more than a year in the number of available candidates. Firms are reporting skills shortages across a range of more than 60 roles, including engineers, IT specialists, care workers and accountants, the confederation found.
The apprenticeship service is run entirely on Azure, a growing collection of connected cloud services that developers and IT professionals use to build, deploy and manage applications through Microsoft’s global network of data centres.
Derrick McCourt, UK Public Sector General Manager at Microsoft, said: “We are delighted that the Department for Education and the Education & Skills Funding agency have chosen to run the apprenticeship service on Azure. With market-leading security, flexibility and reliability, Azure will give it the best foundation for success. Microsoft is proud to be able to help people learn new skills and find apprenticeships in areas they are passionate about, as well as assist companies in finding the right staff.”
Employers are connecting in greater numbers with apprentices as a result of the apprenticeship levy. This will help to fund three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. Employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million a year pay 0.5% of their payroll into the levy; they then use the apprenticeship service to manage training, vacancies and apprenticeship applications.
The Government estimates that the levy will affect less than 2% of UK employers, and that those who do have to pay will “get back more than they put in by training sufficient numbers of apprentices”. Each employer will also receive one annual allowance of £15,000 to offset against their payment.
Keith Smith, Director of the Education and Skills Funding Agency, said: “The Apprenticeship Levy will … put apprenticeship investment on a sustainable footing and fund growth in the apprenticeship programme. Employers have told us that they want to be in control of their apprenticeship activities and funding. They want to manage it quickly and easily, so we have designed the apprenticeship service to do just that.”
After months of consultation with employers, the service is now live.
Employers start by using the apprenticeship service to search for the right type of apprenticeship training for their workforce, and then find a provider that offers that training. Next, they set up an account to manage the apprenticeship funding, before posting vacancies online to find the right candidates. Once recruited, employers can authorise payments to the training provider.
The Government believes this will:
- Put employers in control by choosing the type of apprenticeships they want to run
- Allow firms to offer new apprenticeships
- Create a focus on quality by letting companies find the right apprenticeship for them
- Encourage diversity and social mobility, as employers will be access a large pool of talent
Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy at the Chartered Management Institute, said apprenticeships are important if employers are to grow in the coming years.
“Investment in high-quality apprenticeships will be a crucial step in tackling the UK’s crippling professional skills crisis,” she said. “As we head towards Brexit, we’ll need an internationally competitive economy built on world-class skills. The Apprenticeship Levy is now there for the taking, giving employers the means to invest in developing home-grown talent.”
Smith added: “We had traditional data centres but needed an innovative cloud-first strategy. Azure was cost-effective, plus our skills and the skills in our supply chain were aligned with Microsoft. We have found that by moving to a public cloud provider and working in-house with our ‘dev-ops’, we have achieved a 30% to 40% return on investment, which is significant for us in driving efficiency and value for money in the public sector.
“We can now be even more responsive, agile and creative. Our developers are able to respond immediately to user needs,. positioning the ESFA as a true customer-centric digital organisation.
“It was also important, as a public sector organisation, to use open-source, and Microsoft’s platform now supports Linux.
“Azure has transformed the way we have delivered services.”
Microsoft is doing its part to help people learn new skills. In January, the company announced plans to train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills, allowing those UK government and public sector organisations to deliver better, more efficient and modern services to people across the country.
Meanwhile, the company’s apprenticeship programme was launched in 2010 to give promising, motivated young people a vital first step in their ICT careers. To date, it has placed more than 7,000 apprentices, with many of them going on to secure responsible, productive roles in their chosen businesses.