What is the state of the tech skills gap? w/ Charlie Luff from Firebrand

man training a woman at a computer with a headset

Hear from Firebrand – who help us recruit prospects for our Ten10 Academy cohorts – about what businesses can do to bridge their tech skills gaps

In our newest interview on the Ten Minutes with Ten10 podcast, we spoke with Charlie Luff, Business Development Manager at Firebrand about the current state of the UK tech skills gap and how businesses can be confident that digital bootcamps adequately train the prospects who attend them.

Firebrand has been named one of the Top 20 IT Training Companies in the World for the past 12 years running, providing tech skills bootcamps across a wide range of disciplines. We’ve partnered with Firebrand since 2021, providing that next step for people who are looking for additional training that will bridge into client work (through our Recruit-Train-Deploy model). Click to listen below or read the interview’s transcript.

Tell us about Firebrand – what do you do and how long have you been operating as an organisation?

Firebrand is an IT training provider. We’ve been providing commercial training for around 21 years so that’s any delegates looking to get themselves certified in IT. Over time we’ve become a well-established apprenticeship provider and, in the past two years, a digital bootcamp provider. The area I work in is the bootcamp provision and the government-funded bootcamps.

The bootcamp provision is completely funded by the Department for Education so if organisations are looking to take on new talent, it’s a completely free service for them, incentivising employers to get involved and give people opportunities. It can also be used as a means for training existing staff. Because it’s funded by the government to help plug the IT skills gap in this country and the skill shortages, up to 30% of costs for the training are covered by the employer and 70% is covered by the government.

In running our Ten10 Academy I know that we have had some wonderful people who have started in a Firebrand bootcamp and then taken that next step by attending the Ten10 Academy before going onto a client placement. Now I’d like to move onto asking: what technology and tools do you cover in your training?

On the bootcamp provision, in particular, we cover a variety of digital areas such as cyber [security], cloud data, data analytics, software engineering, and IT support. And then all the bootcamps will include free vendor certifications, this provides adequate capacity for the development of candidates with all different starting points in their knowledge.

The technical training is taught with a lecture-lab-review methodology. That essentially allows people to complete their training with the subject specialists, they will then do certain lab sessions where they can implement what they’re learning in real time, and then they review back to what they’ve learned and they use a whole host of resources outside of their planned sessions to hone in on their skills and improve where they need to.

As well as the technical skills and the technical training that we teach, the bootcamp provision is all about getting people into tech and into the workforce so we’re really big on the soft skills as well. As part of the initiative (it’s included in the 12-week bootcamp) there will be key employability and industry-specific sessions. With the wide variety of candidates that are able to go on the bootcamps, the employability sessions are great for people who are looking to change career or get back into the workforce because they really focus on those interview prepping, CV building, and employability focus skills. And with those particular skills as well, they look at key trends in the industry – if someone’s looking to get into software or cyber they need to be aware of those key trends in the industry, where the industry is going, and how they can maximise their own self-development potential. So the bootcamps have a range of technology skills as well as soft skills and employability skills to really get those well-rounded candidates into the industry.

When we speak with organisations looking for people with particular tech skills, it is often those workplace skills – those soft skills of working to deadlines, working in projects teams and being able to work in a group environment – are not covered by university studies. And it can be a really valuable part of those Academy bootcamps that people come on and they won’t just learn about something as broad as ‘coding’ or ‘automation’ but also how to enter the workplace and get those other skills going.

Definitely. It’s all well and good learning the technical skills and getting your certifications but if you can’t apply those skills in the real world, in a job opportunity, then they’re not going to reach their main potential and maximise the skills that they’re really gaining. So it does work hand in hand with the soft skills and technical skills.

If we change perspective to the people who are running businesses and running these tech teams, how can a business have confidence that a technical bootcamp is adequately training the people who attend it?

Obviously, they need to know exactly what they’re getting from the candidates and they need to have trust that the boot camp provision is achieving what it was set out to do. To start with, the bootcamp provision was set up to be employer-led. Chosen bootcamp areas were highlighted and focused on due to a large number of employers seeing them as the key pathways which need to be supported and invested in over the coming years.

In particular, all of the bootcamps that the Fireband run have vendor qualifications embedded into the 12-week training pathway. As global vendors such as Microsoft and CompTIA are the experts in their areas, we trust that the courseware and the content is the most relevant and applicable for these particular pathways. This trust is then reciprocated by the vendors as we’re the training provider and we’re trusted to effectively deliver this training.

One of the key USPs of Firebrand is the accelerated learning model, with candidates having the opportunity to achieve vendor certifications over that 12 weeks (there are three vendor certifications so they’ve got certification every four weeks). That accelerated learning really does embed their learning and show the quality of learning to be able to pass those exams in that short period. And in terms of candidate success as well and showing value of candidates going into the workforce: several bootcamp candidates have gone on to win various awards following their training. This really highlights that a digital bootcamp is adequately training and providing the tools for people to be successful on completion of the 12-week bootcamp with us.

Thanks very much for sharing that. My final question I have for you is a broader one about the state of the tech schools gap which you mentioned at the top of the episode. We do with organisations who spend a lot of time trying to recruit people. Even [with] close to entry-level people, finding the right talent is proving to be quite a strain, and a drain on time and resources which means that people can’t get their solutions at the door fast enough. What is the state of the technical gap in the UK right now in your opinion?

In my opinion, the tech skills gap is still very evident, especially in the UK. However, I do believe that there are strides being made to improve that and reduce the skills gap. There are lots of opportunities for people to help bridge this gap with a large number of resources, and organisations providing opportunities for this development. In particular, I think bootcamps are a great way of bridging this gap as they provide the key fundamental skills, a lot of them will include vendor certifications and then obviously the opportunity for employment support at the end of the bootcamp. So it’s all well and good training someone for that 12 weeks, but they still need that support to get them into the workforce and it’s a great way of finding the fundamental knowledge to get into the industry.

To an extent, there still needs to be a commitment from employers to provide that job opportunity for the next step. So I think that the skills gap is there, but there are companies providing opportunities and they’re looking at different ways to recruit talent outside of the traditional means. Companies such as Ten10 which operate grad programs and academies are really forging ahead with this and it’s a great way to recruit talent on potential rather than experience, which is the only way you’ll be able to build out and bridge this skills gap: building from the bottom up. A candidate can’t gain experience if they’re not given the opportunity to do so I think it works hand in hand: you need providers to provide the training but then you need the employers that will give people opportunities at the end of their training to get into the industry and bridge that skills gap with experience as they go through their career.

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