In a recent survey, 81% of technology leaders in the private and public sector said COVID-19 had put more pressure on IT infrastructures than any other event.

It’s no surprise. And most councils will surely agree with the statement. From mastering online GP consultations, to data sharing and creating single digital identities, local governments have had to respond and adapt in real time.

Some councils have embraced the upheaval as an opportunity. Others are lamenting what’s lost. But the fact remains: the digital default is happening.

Digital talent is in high demand

Data is critical for serving residents, but a lack of understanding in the field can lead to poor quality of input and siloed working - resulting in inefficiencies and costs.

Digital transformation is powered by talent. That’s why organisations in private and public sectors need employees with data skills and the know-how to capatalise on the latest technological advances.

But these skills are in high demand. In the UK, according to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, there are currently 100,00 unfilled data roles in the country, with public and private sector organisations fighting for the same skills in the same talent pools, making this one of the most competitive labour markets right now.

Councils know all about this. When asked by the Local Government Association if they were experiencing difficulties recruiting, 50% of councils said they were – with 11% reporting IT professionals as the most difficult to recruit. It’s no wonder that, according to research by Kandidate, data science is the only role in the UK startup scene where salary expectations are increasing.

Against this backdrop, we can see that councils are competing for top digital talent with the generous packages and professional prestige of Big Tech, as well as the rest of corporate Britain. Given the sensitivity of the data councils handle, as well as the impact of their work on local communities, it’s a battle they need to win.

The challenge of filling vacancies
At one council, 17% of roles in the overall headcount remain unfilled. Areas like Software Engineering, Project Management and IT procurement have been difficult to fill with the UK’s bustling tech scene snapping up talent.
A senior leader at the council said: “Right now, we're forced to hire contractors and interim staff to address our skills gap - we’d rather be hiring diverse, local talent."

Apprenticeships are the secret weapon for many of the country’s most successful digital adopters. No longer the sole preserve of traditional industries, the fastest growing apprenticeships in the UK are now in 21st century digital and tech skills.

There are numerous reasons for this. The biggest is that apprenticeships empower employees with digital skills directly relevant to their roles. This allows apprentices to start adding value from day one. With bespoke training delivered alongside a full-time job, apprenticeship training sticks with the learner precisely because it’s tested and embedded through immediate application. Learning curves are shorter; impact is longer lasting.

Councils are taking notice. Since the outbreak of Covid COVID-19, Multiverse has delivered apprenticeship programmes for councils including Barnet and Hackney. We’ve also provided apprentices to the NHS as the institution faces down the biggest challenge of its 73-year existence. In all cases, the programmes aim to improve data literacy throughout the organisations, rather than keeping data skills siloed in small, already expert teams.

As well as benefiting from increased data capabilities, these councils are also tapping into a diverse talent pool previously out of reach. Our long-term partners, Westminster City Council, have taken advantage of this. For a number of years, they’ve used apprenticeships to recruit from within their local area and accelerate the careers of talented people from underrepresented groups into senior management positions.

The Levy is there to be spent

With a tight budget, the apprenticeship case has been made even more compelling by the Apprenticeship Levy. This government scheme makes apprenticeships highly cost effective. While corporate training budgets fall across the public sector, Levy funding is still readily available for councils that find ways to align apprenticeship training with their strategic priorities.

For many councils, digital transformation is the biggest strategic priority of all. Here, councils have a choice: increase digital capabilities with costly external consulting teams – or commit to developing internal expertise. Many are now choosing the former. However, with most councils failing to spend their full Levy allocation, there’s still huge potential for growth in public sector apprenticeships.

Download our free white paper to discover how councils can utilise their Apprenticeship Levy to close digital skills gaps.