“The apprenticeship route has sometimes been seen as a lesser route than a University one, and this needs to change; businesses should view apprenticeships as one of their strategic building blocks.”

In this article, Hollie Whittles (Director, Purple Frog Systems and Member of CNM’s Digital Leadership Board) makes the case for why apprenticeships can and should play a strategic role in an organisation’s digital transformation journey.

(March 2024)

The AI era has ushered in the need for digital transformation. Organisations need to adapt their approach and upskill their workforce in order to thrive. For West Midlands businesses, leveraging apprenticeships is not just a strategic move; it is a great solution to help unlock the potential of digital skills and securing a competitive edge.

The West Midlands has a rich background in industrial revolution and is now at the forefront of the digital revolution across all of its key industries including; advanced manufacturing, automotive, life sciences, professional services, construction, low carbon, transport, healthcare and public services – all of which are reflected in the West Midlands Digital Roadmap[1]. To stay relevant and competitive, this means that organisations need to integrate technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud computing into their operations. This shift therefore requires a workforce equipped with the right digital skills.

Apprenticeships are a great way to help bridge the digital skills gap. By engaging with apprenticeships and T Levels, businesses can grow a pipeline of talent tailored to their specific needs. The Skills For Life campaign[2] recently launched by the Government brings together key information that employers need to take the next steps into growing their workforce. It is crucial that apprentices understand the theoretical aspects of the apprenticeship standard they are studying but also how they can practically apply basic digital skills for example in a digital marketing apprenticeship how to use ChatGPT to generate social media content.

Utilising apprenticeships allows businesses to tap into local talent, foster a sense of community and contribute to the growth of the regional economy. A great start is to offer work experience, placements and internships and there is loads of information on this on the Careers & Enterprise Company website including signposting to the local Careers Hubs[3]. By investing in apprenticeships across the West Midlands, we will create skilled workers who will play an active role in shaping the future workforce of the region, embracing digital skills and promoting sustainability and social responsibility.

Providing training for existing employees in digital skills can be a costly and time-consuming process. Apprenticeships offer a cost-effective alternative, allowing businesses to upskill existing staff and this is a route which is often overlooked when considering skills gaps. By choosing to undertake an apprenticeship as an existing employee, this lifelong learning approach means that both the individual and the company will benefit. This also allows for the continuous integration of digital expertise without putting a strain on a company’s budget.

According to survey data gathered by the Federation of Small Businesses, “experiences of recruiting, training, up-skilling and accessing funding vary dramatically across regions and sectors with most SMEs saying they are time-poor and lack the formal HR function required to facilitate effective and consistent skills development and analysis. FSB’s own research shows that almost 80% of small firms struggled to recruit in the past 12 months.”[i]

As digital technologies are constantly evolving, businesses need to be agile and innovate to keep pace. This is where think tanks like the Centre for the New Midlands challenge policy makers to help a shape a better West Midlands. Apprenticeships can help to provide individuals with foundational digital skills but also instil a culture of continuous learning. The fresh perspectives and enthusiasm brought by apprentices can spark creativity and innovation which is what the West Midlands needs to boost the economy.

The apprenticeship route has sometimes been seen as a lesser route than a University one, and this needs to change; businesses should view apprenticeships as one of their strategic building blocks. By embracing them, companies can bridge the skills gap, recruit local talent, and position themselves as agile, innovative players in a global market. There is a symbiotic relationship between businesses and apprenticeships that not only propels individual careers but also contributes to the growth of the region establishing it as a digital hub with a workforce ready to meet the challenges of the future.


[1] West Midlands Digital Roadmap (wmca.org.uk)

[2] Skills for Life: it all starts with skills | Skills for Careers (education.gov.uk)

[3] Contact your local Careers Hub | The Careers and Enterprise Company

[i] https://www.fsb.org.uk/resources-page/skills-shortages-acting-as-brake-on-investment-and-growth-for-wales.html


Hollie Whittles is a passionate advocate for digital skills and apprenticeships. She is an award winning TEDx speaker, author and Director of two West Midlands based digital companies – Purple Frog Systems and FraggleWorks. She is also the National Policy Skills Champion for the Federation of Businesses (FSB).

Hollie is a member of CNM’s Digital Leadership Board and is excited to bring the voice of small business to the table. She is keen to help break down barriers and ensure that the digital skills needed by all sizes of business are accessible to bridge the skills gap and digital divide.

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