Every year, WorldSkills International and The United Nations recognise the 15th of July as World Youth Skills Day (WYSD). Designed to raise awareness on the importance of technical, vocational education, and training, WYSD works towards reducing unemployment and underemployment among youths across the globe.
Ahead of WYSD 2017, we spoke to Martin Pickering, Apprentice Program Manager at Computacenter, and current apprentice Zach Kirk-Gray, 1st Line Support Analyst, about the importance of promoting vocational training, and the benefits to businesses and apprentices alike.
Why should companies invest in technical and vocational education?
For businesses, vocational education is a way to invest in the company culture from the offset. “With apprentices, it really gives us the opportunity to grow grass-roots, technical staff, using the Computacenter brand. This not only gives young people a foot in the door, but at the same time allows companies to fill the gaps that they are finding in their operations” says Martin.
“Some legacy technologies are slowly becoming difficult to employ against, such as mainframes launched in the 70’s and 80’s. The 40 years of service that these technologies have are now bringing the initial starters of that generation towards the end of their careers, and businesses need to realise the value of bringing young blood back into their organisation.
“Not only this, but the youth of today are digital natives, and are also at a stage in their lives when they are really tuned into learning and are extremely flexible with their talents. It’s here that we can start to use the younger generation to really get stuck in and learn about new technologies, such as cloud adoption, and use them as the next generation in an area that can often be very expensive to train staff in, and difficult for older members of staff to be trained on.”
Zach agrees that learning on the job is one of the best things about his apprenticeship: “It’s great to learn with the technologies. Vocational training is important to me because you really have a hands-on experience all the time, and get a lot of face-time with experts in those fields.
“At college, I was only really studying theory, which I felt wasn’t going to help me later in my life, and I found it difficult to learn just looking at books. Going for a practical apprenticeship has been absolutely brilliant.”
Why is it important to offer this type of training to today’s youth?
“Apprenticeship programs are not just about delivering a group of young adults to a team and getting them to do low skilled work,” continues Martin. “This for me is about creating opportunity.”
“I class the apprenticeship as a golden ticket. At Computacenter, we heavily invest the time of our technology experts into developing our analyst apprentices technically, but we also look at soft skills to develop them in the business world. This is an extremely important part of offering training to today’s youth, as many come straight out of college or school without any experience of working in a formal business environment. Even those who leave university with a degree are still under-experienced in the real-world applications of their skills.
“So, not only is vocational training important for their area of expertise, but also to develop their skills outside of technical delivery so that they are transferrable to any role they might hold in the future.
“My hope is that we create the opportunity for them to look back in years to come and see that Computacenter helped them achieve their goals.
How are apprentices valuable to Computacenter?
Martin can’t help but sing their praises: “Apprentices are fantastic and come with a great attitude towards learning. We spend the first three months of the program training them, and they are able to take in all the information like sponges and can retain more than mature analysts that have been in the business world for years – it’s really amazing. Following this, they can then deliver and fill any gaps in the business with attrition at a lower cost.
“When speaking to customers, talking about investing in apprentices is always good news. My hopes are that more businesses realise the value of apprentices, and that more young people become aware of the benefits of vocational education themselves. Perhaps one day one of our apprentices will become the mentors of new programs to come.”
Finally, Zach agrees with promoting apprenticeships to young people, and why they should start considering this educational path: “Being an apprentice gives you the opportunities in life and trains you up to progress through the company, with hands-on training and mentorship. If I was to give any advice to young people deciding which path to take, I’d tell them to definitely go for an apprenticeship.
“I know people that have gone to university, but when they come out the other side they feel like they don’t have the practical knowledge or business acumen to really go out and get that foot in the door. With an apprenticeship, you’re already on your way.”
After a few silent months away from from philosophical scribbling about market, societal and technology based change, something has caused me to reach again for my pen (“what pen I hear you say”, stay with me on this one).
In the digital age, “do nothing” delivers the worst possible outcome – “nothing”. Does this mean a relentless march forward ideally at “digital” speed is the order of the day – to a degree, yes but not without thought or calibration. Harvard’s, Clayton Christensen formulated a memorable principle in his seminar book the Innovators Dilemma in 1997, “An organization’s capabilities define its disabilities”. Put simply, an organisation should rightly be validated for the actionable elements it delivers over pomp, history or rhetoric.
Surely this is obvious stuff, but changing focus, reinventing successful products or undertaking “blank sheet of paper” style development is time consuming, challenging, provides no guarantee of success and is downright risky. With the result, many crank the handle on the “same old way”, turning the handle faster as competition, market saturation and reducing income signposts the race may be close to being run. But that isn’t the only way, “do nothing” or “do the same something” whilst safe is a sure-fire way of ensuring the only future ahead is one as “yesterday’s great”. As the digital age drives our personal and business lives forward pressing reset on everything safe and known at a speed we can barely consume (much less digest), the winners will be those who manage to maintain a level of effective competitiveness within existing markets whilst guiding existing customers and new prospects to take advantage of adjacent or original innovations that unlock reliable and previous unforeseen benefits.
I was compelled to scribble this post by a recent and potentially market defining strategic announcement from Cisco. As the campus and datacentre network infrastructure market leader by some magnitude, “do nothing” for Cisco could still have some mileage. By using superior purchasing power to develop products at market prices others may struggle to match profitably or via customer loyalty plays to retain and maximise existing advocates, Cisco could continue to maintain a slightly better version of “the good old way”. Or they could flip script with a fundamental reframe of everything known, building on existing legacy value, but enhanced for the future via insight and innovation – that’s what Cisco has done. Cisco DNA (Digital Network Architecture) and SDA (Software Defined Access) is so new in the market, the ink has barely dried but initial observations point to a technical philosophy that will redefine strategic, functional, operational and technology based customer outcomes.
The ability to deliver local and in time wide area secure network connectivity, that self-configures, is rich with relevant user or network insight, is policy drive, self-heals, is adaptive, abstracts complexity, is API open, secure by design, enhanced by automation reads like a CIO wish list to Santa. But this is just a selection of announced initial release functionality inherent within the DNA and SDA footprint from Cisco. It leaves me encouraged, inspired and enthused, not because it signals a one vendor world of customer benefits as that equally delivers the fear of “lock in”, but based on the potential for a vendor and market open platform that will bring together co existing and competing vendors integrated by APIs to deliver an autonomic secure network layer to underpin digital transformation.
Forget dilemmas, it’s time for the “innovation imperative”. As Cisco reinvents itself to guide both customers and the industry forward, the game changes for everyone. Competitors will be compelled to respond fuelled by their own innovation imperative, partners inspired to retool and reskill to service & support the new normal and lastly customers whilst initially confused will soon be engulfed by a wave of excitement that old problems may soon be eliminated by new solutions.
I’m not just a Cisco fan, I’m also seeing mind blowing innovation from the top ten networking & security industry leaders and the next ten UK, San Jose or Israel based emerging technology startups as they paint the new picture for business enabled IT. What a fantastic transformational journey we have ahead as we march towards that spiritual IT milestone date of 2020.
Who knows, as digitisation becomes the DNA of societal and business existence, a flawed something may far outweigh a perfect something. Time to get involved.
Until next time.
Chief Technologist – Computacenter UK, Networking, Security and Collaboration.