TECHNATION200: The LDN Group helps young people to prepare for the world of work. Chief executive Simon Bozzoli tells Toni Sekinah how its Tech City Stars programme gives digital companies access to talented and enthusiastic employees and increases tech sector diversity.
Skills, according to survey after survey, is the number one challenge facing the UK digital business sector. To help overcome the limitations of the education system in creating more young people, many employers are now looking to apprenticeships to bridge their skills gap.
According to one recent survey, by digital employers network the Tech Partnership, of the businesses that take on apprentices, three out of four said that filling their digital and tech skills gap was their biggest motivation for doing so.
But the survey found that the apprenticeship market has its own limitations, not least on the employer side. Nearly half of respondents said that their organisation did not offer apprenticeships.
There were two clear main obstacles to running apprenticeship schemes: not knowing how to recruit apprentices and not knowing where to find high quality training for them. Tech City Apprenticeships were launched in 2013 promising places for 500 young people, but not enough businesses are yet feeling the benefit of that scheme.
The London apprenticeship gap, alongside the skills gap, is a problem that LDN Group is trying to address through its apprenticeship programmes for young people aged 16 to 23. LDN group delivers its services with the support of the government’s Skills Funding Agency and the EU’s European Social Fund.
LDN offers three separate apprenticeship schemesr. Future London focusses on finance and project management apprenticeships, while Enterprise London offers apprenticeships for youth workers and teaching assistants. For those who want to work as IT support and network technicians, web or software developers or in the creative or digital industries, there is Tech City Stars.
The 13-month Tech City Stars programme is for young people who have not been to university and have A Levels or equivalents as their highest qualification.
TCS ran for the first time at the start of the 2013 academic year, with a cohort of 25 young people. Since then 125 young people have come through the programme.
LGN Group founder Simon Bozzoli is proud of what his ‘Star’ apprentices have gone on to do.
“Fifty-nine of them have completed the apprenticeship with us,” he says. “The rest are on the programme at the moment. We see success as completing the 13-month programme and achieving their qualification. Our overall success rate is 84%, which is massively high.”
He points out that 86% of the young people who successfully complete the programme end up in a positive destination, either going into work using the skills they learned or moving on to attend university.
Bozzoli says the Tech City Stars programme encourages young people to be self-taught and use the time with their employer to soak up as much knowledge as they can from managers and colleagues.
“It is not so much about specific skills as it is to do with people’s attitudes and willingness to be hardworking and innovative,” he says. “It is not like we are ever going to place a highly qualified Java or Python developer into a job with one of our clients, but we may place a really talented 18-year-old who can show that they spent a lot of time teaching them selves programming.”
Each Tech City Star is paid £250 a week but, in addition to working full time, the apprentices have to attend evening classes twice a week. What the apprentices study depends on which of three pathways they chose.
A digital and creative pathway offers training in personal branding, graphic design, digital marketing and web design and development, while an IT and support pathway teaches ICT systems security, PC maintenance, computer networking and how to work on a help desk. Finally, a web and software development pathway teaches web design and development, project planning and database design, app development and system analysis and design.
Work-based assessment is an essential part of the programme, allowing the apprentices to put into practice the knowledge they acquire. A LDN Group assessor also visits the apprentices once a month for around two hours, as part of their work-based assessment.
Young people prepare for their apprenticeship with a seven-week Reboot Camp traineeship delivered in partnership with the Prince’s Trust. This gives them employability skills, interview and CV preparation, as well as always-useful pitching practice.
Bozzoli says he has no problem in finding employers to work with his apprentices, with 50% coming through direct referrals. “Often they will say ‘we’ve met this young person who is working for x company and we think they are absolutely incredible. Can we please have one?’”
One shining Tech City Star is Rhys Davidson-Thomas, who was part of the very first cohort. Bozzoli remembers that he was so devoted and committed that he did not miss a single evening class.
“He did a presentation for the chief executive of euNetworks, the company where he was doing his apprenticeship and in the final slide of the presentation, he said that he was built to work there,” Bozzoli recalls.
His manager at euNetworks clearly agreed and Davidson-Thomas was offered a permanent job at the end of his apprenticeship. Bozzoli calls him “a picture of success”, since he is now doing a level four apprenticeship with LDN Group.
Bozzoli is also satisfied with his company’s progress on efforts to increase diversity in the tech workplace. The statistics for gender and ethnic diversity in tech are woeful, with a high proportion of male, pale faces in tech and digital workplaces – 73% of those working in digital industries in the UK are men and 79% are white.
“Young women make up 25% of our apprentices. It is not as good as we would like but we are working very hard to address gender disparity in the tech sector,” says Bozzoli. He adds that nearly 70% of the young people on LDN Group programmes are from minority ethnic groups.
“It is so important that programmes like Tech City Stars bring diversity and different ways of thinking so that people from different backgrounds can get into businesses which are predominantly white and male,” he says. “I think we do amazingly well in that area and our clients benefit from it too.”
Simon Bozzoli – CV
Founder and chief executive, LDN Group
Founder, Future LDN
Operations manager, Capital Training Group
Commercial contracts manager, Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College
ESF Project manager, Kensington and Chelsea College.
BA Law, international relations, Italian, University of Witwatersrand.