Drupal apprenticeships: developing the new generation
Apprenticeships have been synonymous with British culture since medieval times – as much so as a cup of tea or fish and chips. Gaining skills just by observing someone at work is a tried and tested method of learning. So how can the modern industry of web development take advantage of this traditional method of transferring knowledge to the next generation?
Apprenticeships for developers makes a lot of sense. Web technologies are constantly evolving. A trainee involved in a training scheme that is intertwined with industry is best suited to adapt to the relevant skill sets almost immediately. But higher education programs can sometimes take years to develop, leaving graduates with outdated skills.
The digital skills gap
Most teenagers have been brought up in a modern communications focused culture, where they can’t sit still for more than ten minutes without checking WhatsApp or their latest Facebook update. Using a computer is second nature to them so most parents feel that taking a GCSE in IT would be wasteful. How then do we make sure that the opportunities are there for students with the appropriate aptitudes and interests?
Teenagers & university leavers could have a tendency to get involved in fashionable technologies, such as iOS app development or front end development. But what we need are engineers that have a good concept of the computer science behind the systems that web technologies are built on. The Web industry should be highly involved in the STEM subjects with local colleges and Secondary schools in order to promote careers in the industry.
Groups like Code Club are starting to address issues like this by getting children interested in computer technology from a very young age, showing them that there is more to IT than word processing and spreadsheets.
In my primary school days the BBC micro computer was a standard feature in the classroom. It, along with the ZX Spectrum and Amiga, inspired the IT geeks that are fixing your computers and who developed the website that you are reading this on. Projects such as Codecademy, Raspberry Pi, and Scratch from MIT are the modern day equivalent that will hopefully inspire children to get involved with technology. The more you understand about the underlying principles of the technology then the easier it will be to adapt to any changes.
In the past year there has been a significant increase in students taking STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) subjects. The Drupal community should act on this rise and ensure that there is a supportive, approachable network ready to assist the new developers of the future.
Organisations like Happy Computers, in association with Open Drupal, are already doing this by creating the Drupal Apprenticeship backed and funded by The Tech Partnership. The majority of people that I meet in the Drupal community are usually freelancers or one stop shops for web development, not attached to any big agencies. These are the people who need to be involved as mentors or teachers.
Agency involvement would also help to get rid of this stigma associated with Apprenticeships that classes them as secondary to an academic career. After all, who is the real winner: the time served apprentice with a long term job in a growing field with a recognisable qualification; or the university graduate with crippling debt and an irrelevant degree?