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Digital skills

Microsoft and Catch22 partnership opens up digital apprenticeships to diverse communities

A man sits at a computer looking at data visualisation charts.

Microsoft and Catch22 have joined forces to help people facing barriers to work embark on digital apprenticeships.

The pilot project will see Catch22 find and recruit candidates with a range of challenges – from gender and ethnicity barriers, homelessness, mental health issues, school exclusion and disability – and supports them to access a digital apprenticeship with a local employer within Microsoft’s network of customers and partners.

The pilot’s objective is to understand what can help broaden the opportunity of an apprenticeship to those who currently face barriers to access the programme and also what support employers looking to diversify their workforce might need. These learnings will then inform how providers recruit young people across the country.

Recently published research into the impact of the existing programme found that as well as giving promising, motivated young people a vital first step, there were also substantial benefits for businesses, particularly SMEs who can often struggle to support apprenticeships.

Kat Dixon, Head of Partnerships at Catch22, said:

“Apprenticeships offer an amazing opportunity to get on-the-job training, opening doors for people facing real challenges in their lives. We want to open digital careers through a pre-apprenticeship program, giving people the confidence and skills to succeed. Ultimately, we want to create a scalable blueprint, helping employers attract diverse talent to help their businesses thrive.

“We work with some of the most vulnerable people in society, from care leavers and pupils who have been excluded from mainstream schools to BAME women and people stuck in low-skilled, low-income jobs. This programme presents a great opportunity for them to get a foot in the door in what is a competitive industry.

“It’s an incredibly exciting partnership with the potential to transform how employers and learning providers identify, support and work with people facing barriers to work find jobs fit for the future.”

The pilot aims to engage more than 50 candidates, with at least 15 people sustaining a Microsoft certified apprenticeship. It will include:

  • recruitment of talented candidates from Catch22 services,
  • collaborative design with Learning Partners and employers,
  • assessment of individual candidate needs and development of tailored learning plans,
  • pre-apprenticeship training, including personal development and practical training,
  • apprentice mapping to suitable positions,
  • job matching for candidates not ready for an apprenticeship through Catch22 services, and
  • in-work support focused on the first 4-6 weeks. Evidence shows sustainability rates increase drastically after this.

Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK, said:

“There’s no doubt digital apprenticeships supported by Microsoft work. They offer sustainable, well rewarded careers in an industry that is crying out for talent in the UK. We’ve seen tens of thousands of young people go on to new jobs over the nine years we’ve been running the programme, but our ambition doesn’t end there.

“Because of our experience, we know there are people who, for a whole range of reasons, don’t normally make it past the selection stage, or if they do make it to interview, don’t perform well against more traditional candidates. These disadvantaged young people are often exactly the people who with the right help could have hugely successful careers in the sector. They are the people we must make sure don’t get left behind in a world increasingly dominated by technology. We see their potential and I hope that what we learn through this partnership with Catch22 will help others see it too.”

The evaluation of the pilot is due to be published in Spring 2021.