A drive to address the well-documented IT skills gap in Northern Ireland will soon see the 200th apprentice being delivered to the sector by Belfast Metropolitan College.
The Public Private Apprenticeship scheme, which has been running for five years at Belfast Met, pairs our apprentices with organisations such as Fujitsu, Capita, the Northern Ireland Civil Service, the PSNI, Dale Farm and Randox Laboratories.
The training allows our apprentices to study one day a week in the college while gaining hands-on, paid experience in the organisations during the other four days.
Working closely with industry, Belfast Met has continually developed the curriculum to meet the changing demands of the employers. An impressive 96% of our apprentices complete the programme. Fujitsu's apprenticeship scheme is reflective of their business requirements.
They want applicants who are ready to embrace digital and the opportunities therein and have already taken on 45 apprenticeships. Digital transformation presents economic, social and cultural benefits.
The Fujitsu apprenticeship programme harnesses and develops the skills of innovators to capitalise on the benefits brought about by digitalisation.
It provides participants with a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a work environment while equipping them with the latest knowledge and key insights on ICT trends and advancements.
Such is the huge demand for IT skills in the province, many companies which previously selected employees with a degree in IT are now recruiting following A-levels to allow more people a chance to break into the industry.
IT Growth Areas
Of the nearly 200 apprentices that have passed through Belfast Met's doors, there is an equal split in provision of software development and computing, and infrastructure and IT support roles.
However, there are other major growth areas.
In Northern Ireland there is a huge demand for network operators, data analytics and cloud skills. The positions are there - we just now need the talent to fill them.
Cyber security and digital forensics are also important growth areas. In fact, Northern Ireland now requires 2,500 cyber security professionals.
As a result there will be an apprenticeship programme focusing solely on this speciality beginning next year.
We are currently running classes in this area at Belfast Met and we are the main college in Northern Ireland involved in training people in this skillset.
Sarah Gillespie is 31 and a qualified pharmacist from Londonderry, and despite having no previous experience in IT, she is now an apprentice at Fujitsu in the north west.
Sarah wanted a career in IT but wasn't sure how she would get on to this new path.
She joined us at Belfast Met and saw the apprenticeship as a chance to get a job in the sector and to 'earn while you learn'.
She's now in the middle of the two-year programme and was in the workplace as early as week one.
Sarah is currently working in application support and is due to start another project imminently.
Philip Allen is Belfast Met curriculum area manager for IT services, creative and digital industries