New apprenticeship standards for digital

By Andrew Henning
11 May 2017

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Go to any gathering of digital people and it won’t be long until the subject of recruitment is raised. The merry-go-round of hiring and the ongoing skills gap in the industry.

Whilst digital apprenticeships aren’t a new concept their uptake amongst the agency world is still patchy, perhaps surprising given the financial incentives and the collective need we have for new talent.

Therefore, at BIMA we are hopeful that the digital standards recently released will encourage more agencies to hire apprentices. There is certainly more choice and whilst many disciplines are still missing, many common roles (particularly technical) are now included.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, a standard is basically the syllabus the training provider must deliver. Standards come at different qualification levels of 3, 4, 5 or 6. 3 is equivalent to A levels, 4 is an HNC or NVQ, 5 is a Foundation Degree or HND and 6 is a full degree as you’d get at University; albeit without the student loan.

The new standards move the industry forward in aligning many of our common agency roles to apprenticeships.

The digital industry has currently a total of fourteen standards. However other disciplines such as VFX, graphics, finance or business may also interest agencies. The current list is:

Network Engineer (4), Software Developer (4), Digital and Technology Solutions Professional (6), Digital Marketer (3), Cyber Intrusion Analyst (4), Data Analyst (4), Unified Communications Trouble Shooter or TechOps (4), Infrastructure Technician (3), Software Tester (4), Cyber Security Technologist (4), IT Technical Salesperson (3), Software Development Technician (3), Unified Communications Technician (3) and IS Business Analyst (4). We also anticipate Content Producer (3) to be added shortly.

Whilst as stated many are technically orientated, we believe every agency should have the capacity to require the skills taught and hence include apprenticeships as part of their staffing strategy.

The full list of apprenticeships is provided on the new government website at From here you can access the actual standards and a list of training providers by location. You may find some of the old “frameworks” on the list such “Digital Marketing and Social Media”. These are being phased out and hence don’t have the same government funding, so be careful. This is likely to mean they are harder to source or the employee contribution is a lot higher.

To give a flavour of the new standards we have highlighted the top 3 that we think may have the most impact to the industry today.

Digital Marketer (Level 3)

Typically, an 18-month apprenticeship this is designed for Campaign Executives, Digital Marketing, Social and/or SEO Executives.

As with all apprenticeships the minimum wage is £3.50 an hour but most agencies pay a little more. If your apprentice is over 19 then you must pay national minimum wage after 12 months.

Training depends on the provider and can range from at work to 1 day per week out of the office. They will learn communication, research skills, some technology and analytics.

The cost of training again is provider dependent but with a government cap for this course set at £12,000 we’d expect a contribution of about £1,200 from any employers not subject to the new levy. More information and providers can be found here:

At BIMA we’d like to see this evolve into a level 4 course to allow further specialism but in its current form it’s a great opportunity to get an enthusiast young person into your agency. It gives time to discover what direction is best for them typically across junior planning and client facing roles. Think of it as a foundation type course.

Software Developer (Level 4)

This 2-year course is level 4 so you’ll be generally recruiting students with A levels or equivalent. Given the nature of the subject you probably be requesting Computer Science or Maths qualifications/experience as a requirement. Like any vacancy the entry requirements are the employee’s decision.

The course is purely development based and will include some professional qualifications as part of the overall structure. These are often in line with what your current staff already have. We’ve also heard of agencies adding extra training to meet their own specific requirements, albeit at their own cost. The students do theory, coding, testing and deployment.

The standard is non-language specific so Microsoft, PHP or Java development could all be considered. It’s down to the provider’s ability to teach what you need. We’d expect 1 day a week off site as being the norm for most providers.

The funding cap for this is £18,000 so based on the non-levy 90/10 rule the training cost to the employee is £1,800.

Wages again can be minimum but many employers will increase salary in year 2 as their apprentice becomes more valuable as an employee. Given the demand for developers you will need to balance the opportunity to the individual against their contribution to your billings. More information and providers can be found here:

Digital and Technology Solutions Professional (Level 6)

Despite the un-glamorous title this is probably the most exciting and game changing one of all. At level 6, this is a degree apprenticeship with a BSc (Hons) award at the end. Like other traditional degrees it is a 3-year course and with a funding cap of £27,000 the likely cost to the employer will be £900 per year plus the apprentice’s wages.

Many of the providers are established universities with UWL, Solent, Exeter, Sheffield Hallam, Aston and Anglia Ruskin all mentioned on the site.

However, this apprenticeship is more than meets the eye. Its universal title hides specialism outcomes in Software engineering, Business analysis, Cyber security and Data analytics.

A degree level apprenticeship is much the same as other levels. Recruits work at the agency for 4 days a week with a day release and/or block units at the university/provider. They are your employee and work to agency holidays and benefits. To be fair to both sides many employers will pre-plan wage increases based on the successful completion of the course units. As this is more university centric we’d assume the majority of providers will align their intake to the educational year so look to plan for September starts.

More information and providers can be found here:

In summary, we at BIMA, see apprenticeships as a great way to shape your workforce through expansion of roles and an effective way to improve diversity. As an agency recruiter, you have the power to give people a fantastic opportunity to gain qualifications, learn and contribute to your vibrant workplace.

Apprentices quickly find their feet and like any other role, if you recruit well you are quickly rewarded.

In addition, with a broader range of apprenticeship options then agencies can better forge links with schools and their communities to raise awareness and give people outside our industry a real sense of direction to how to get on-board.


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