New apprenticeship standards for digital in England

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 the uptake among the agency world is still patchy, which is perhaps surprising given the financial incentives and the collective need we have for new talent.

Therefore, at BIMA we are hopeful that the newly released digital standards for England will encourage more agencies to hire via this route. There is certainly more choice and whilst many disciplines are still missing, most 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.

Apprenticeships are a great way to broaden your workforce and an effective way to improve diversity.

The digital industry has currently a total of fourteen standards. However other disciplines outside our category such as VFX, graphics, finance or business may also be of interest. 

 The current list and level 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 hope every agency should have the capacity to require the skills taught and hence include apprenticeships as part of their staffing strategy.  The full list is 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 as “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 no more than £1,200 from any employers not subject to the new levy.  The link to this standard is:

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 both employer and employee time to discover what direction is best, typically across junior planning and client facing roles. Think of it as a foundation type or induction 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 employees’ 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 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 can be found here:

Digital and Technology Solutions Professional (Level 6)

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

Despite the unglamorous title this degree level standard is probably the most exciting and game changing one of all.

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:

So in summary, 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 and purpose in how to get on-board.

If you’re an employer with operations in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can find information from your apprenticeship authority:

Scotland –

Wales –

Northern Ireland –


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