A dearth of technology talent has led professional services firms to broaden their hunt for staff and PwC has turned to the traditionally trades-focused model of apprenticeships for assistance.
The big four consulting firm last year ran a pilot apprenticeship program for school leavers, and its success – 73 per cent of apprentices completed the program – brought benefits to its workforce in terms of both technological depth and diversity.
“When you look at what the consultants of the future look like, technology is pivotal,” PwC’s Chief People Officer Dorothy Hisgrove said.
“This generation [of school leavers] has grown up with the internet, so their knowledge of technology is prolific. That demographic has brought lots of innovation into our business and that’s been very valuable.”
Microsoft is also looking to apprenticeships to grow its pool of tech talent, extending its successful British apprenticeship program to Australia, receiving more than3000 applicants applied for 40 ‘digital apprentice’ positions this February.
PwC received more than 700 applications for its next intake, and Siemens too offers apprenticeships in conjunction with Ai Group and Swinburne University of Technology.
Apprenticeship graduate Tilly Cooper – who is now a senior associate at the firm – credits the program with sparking her career pathway in technology.
“Tech wasn’t really at the front of my mind as a career. I went to a girls’ school and it wasn’t pushed on us as an option … But with the apprenticeship you get to see different projects and what you like and don’t like … so I got that exposure to tech.”
There was “no question at all that there’s an appetite for apprentices” in professional services to fill skills gaps such as in technology, NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright added.
“Business understands we’re not going to produce this big pool of talented workers without new and creative solutions, and they’re willing to play their part in that.”
‘Question old paradigms’
By looking beyond the classic entry paths of either graduate, university intern, or lateral hire, Ms Hisgrove believes that the apprenticeships can enable those who are not suited to university, or who cannot afford to study, to enter the firm.
“Access to education and opportunity is vital, and this program provides that,” she said.
This in turn has been “refreshing for our partners and senior staff … as apprentices question old paradigms and ways of doing things”.
Ms Cooper said that she would not have ended up in her current role had she stuck to the traditional university path she was on when she applied for the program.
“If I’d stayed at uni, I think I would have lost motivation along the way. I got discouraged by the parts of my degree that weren’t relevant or practical.”
While apprentices complete a diploma as part of the program, Ms Cooper said that it was very practical and that “your assignments helped your work and your work helped your assignments”.
The most relevant talent gap
Mr Cartright said that the inclusion of study options could mean apprenticeships become the most popular way to start a career in the field.
He added, however, that the challenge lay in developing apprenticeships that could work for SMEs that have the same talent needs but without the resources to offer tailored programs such as PwC’s.
While professional higher education apprenticeships are focused on tech − as Mr Cartwright points out, it’s the most relevant talent gap for PwC and Microsoft to fill − skills shortages across the board may see a broader range develop.
Microsoft’s apprenticeship program in England and Scotland also takes apprentices in sales, marketing and business, for example.
And at PwC, apprentices are also trained in other, more general business skills, as Ms Hisgrove believes “it’s important to have that holistic experience”.