Apprenticeships – the solution to the UK tech skills gap?

The UK skills gap is impacting the technology industry. Adrian Criddle, UK head of Intel Corporation, discussed this with Information Age.

Can you tell me about your role?

I’ve been at Intel 19 years, doing a variety of roles and I worked in the IT industry for 10 years prior to that. My current title is Vice President and General Manager of Intel UK.

Just to give you a bit of background, over the past year, we’ve been re-organising ourselves to be a country structure where we are far more focused on the UK as a country. So, we no longer have a European structure, we’re now country structure. And the UK is about the sixth biggest country for Intel globally. We just celebrated our 50th anniversary, which is quite unique in the technology space.

I took up my position as of 1 January 2018, so we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how we’re going to continue to push forward, specifically within the UK.

What challenges does the skills gap represent, especially considering recruitment?

It’s an ongoing challenge. As the world becomes far more complex and digitisation infiltrates business and society, it’s becoming more of a challenge to find the right people with the right skills.

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It’s a highly competitive market, and with the UK Government announcing recently that we’re almost at full employment within the UK, it becomes a little bit more of a problem and concern.

At Intel, we have a number of things that we’ve put in place, and we’ll continue to evolve this. We’re looking at re-skilling our internal workforce for what is required in the future, around whether it will be 5G, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, data analytics and automation. We also have a very long-established relationship with universities to bring in interns and that’s a very successful programme.

Tell me about apprenticeships

One of the things I kicked off in my previous role, surrounded apprenticeships. We wanted to embrace the Government’s desire to jump start the apprenticeship scheme. We started it very small, and I’m pleased to say that that first couple of years of apprenticeship have been very successful. We’ve gone on to hire those apprentices into full-time roles.

The reason I wanted to go down that route, is that I came from an apprenticeship background, not a university background. I am quite passionate about it, because I felt that there was a lot of untapped potential and untapped talent that we simply weren’t looking at.

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Expanding and having the balance of experienced hires, college graduate hires and apprenticeships made us a little bit more balanced to what was happening demographically within the country. And it seems to have been successful. So we’ll continue to go down that path, which I think is critical.

Adrian Criddle, UK head of Intel Corporation, began his career as an apprentice, and believes this area is an untapped talent pool
Adrian Criddle, UK head of Intel Corporation, began his career as an apprentice, and believes this area is an untapped talent pool

How can the technology industry appeal to a wider set of people and skills?

I think the technology companies continually need to demonstrate the benefits of people actually going into a technology role. I think collectively we continually have to work on STEM projects, work on women in technology projects, change the landscape and the language to make it an attractive place for a diverse set of candidates and employees to come and work. I think we’re doing that, but I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re on the path. But, I’m very encouraged by the level of diversity and people actually getting excited about technology.

This comes on to a point about digitisation. People are realising that the world is going digital; new companies are being born on the web; new business models are happening. If you look at the long term prospects for the UK, it’s very positive – as long as we maintain an emphasis on digital skills, and the Government takes that agenda of digital skills and the digitisation of everything very seriously. We all talk about it, but we have to take more action in making sure that we are prepared for the way the world is going.

Speaking of digitisation, do you have a technology that you think is going to really impact the UK job market in the next 5 years?

There’s a combination of technologies. We continue to see strength in the PC-centric model, especially for business. And, I think that consumers are worried about political changes that may or may not happen. But, certainly businesses around security, around productivity, creativity and innovation, they still see a PC-centric model.

The data explosion has made people go oh my gosh, we really need to make sure that we have secure data. The security of data is critical.

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Data is going to drive the digitisation, and when 5G begins to roll out, we’re going to see a change in business models; how people demonstrate value out of data by location-based services and edge-based technology. Simple things like hey, I’ve never been to this petrol station, my car knows that I need fuel, my phone knows where I am or my car knows where I am, and the retailer of the petrol station will send you an offer for you to drive in and buy fuel, and other things while you’re in that vicinity.

Historically technology companies would want to sell the technology and the solution but in the future, they may look for a revenue share with that petrol retailer or that oil company. That may be a different way of working, and I think those new business models are where the digitisation is going to come into it.

Do you have any tips for our audience on building an effective IT or tech-led team?

Yes. I never build a team that’s like myself. I always look for extreme diversity within a team. My world view is very different from other people’s world view and I think diversity is absolutely key. What do I mean by diversity? It’s multi-dimensional, so look for a range, whether it be gender or experience.

There’s never an end goal, but I try and look at what I want to achieve in 2020 or 2021 and then work back. This way, I make sure that I have the right skills, the right people, the right talents and the right cultural environment for people to be successful.

We also have a philosophy of allowing people to reinvent themselves, if they so wish. Looking at myself, when I came into Intel, I was very much focused on the enterprise hardware space. And after a couple of years within Intel, I then went and ran the consumer business which is very, very different. I then ran multinational global accounts, which is very different again, and then I actually went into operations, so supply chain, order management and forecasting, which again was very different.

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Having the opportunity of multiple career streams makes you a more holistic, rounded individual, and that means you can contribute more effectively to a team. But, you’ve got to mix that in with expertise and specialists, so having specialists around 5G, artificial intelligence, automation and digitisation, would also be key as well.

Moving forward, how can the UK tech scene thrive?

The industry has to come together, and the media is a critical part of that as well – trying to get the stories out there.

I think also we have to continue to ask industry bodies and Government to really put digitisation at the top of the agendas. We all know that every Government department is going through a digital transformation, but we don’t have a Minister for digital transformation.

Collectively it’s such an important thing to ensure that the UK is competitive and that we also increase productivity. Using technology to create value is absolutely critical. So that’s probably another element that I’m spending quite a bit of time talking to industry bodies and the Government about – how do we help to transform as fast as possible, because it’s the UK plc competing with the rest of the world in this space.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...