What was it that made you want to do an IT apprenticeship over going to university?
Before I was employed by IBM, I had just completed my A-levels and had quite a difficult decision to make on whether to go to university or opt for a different career route. In my opinion, there seemed to be a stigma attached to apprenticeships that gave apprentices a reputation of potentially being less successful than a university graduate longer term.
I chose to not go to university because of the financial implications it carries but also for the fact I was confident that once you start your career, it is experience which progresses you. With my chosen industry in mind and opting for an apprenticeship, I carried out some research on a number of technical companies and saw that the apprenticeship schemes will look after you. Dig a bit deeper into IBM’s “Foundation” apprenticeship scheme and you will see a company that is dedicating a whole department to young professionals. This is an invaluable support network that eases you into working life and really does begin to help you shape and develop your career.
What was your role and what did it involve on a typical day?
I am an I.T. Specialist in software application support and development. I.T. Specialists integrate hardware, software and network solutions. We identify project requirements as well as developing and delivering high-quality solutions to clients in response to varying business needs. I.T. Specialists develop proof of concepts, design, develop, build, test and implement systems.
What was the most valuable thing you learnt during your apprenticeship?
Without a doubt I would say one of the most valuable skills I’ve developed is constantly building a wide network and assessing how to utilise the key strengths of your network for your own/ team’s success.
My logic behind this is that as a young professional – however smart or talented you are there are always going to be times where you need help or advice (it’s the same for the most experienced professionals). With this in mind, you need to identify who to go to for certain topic areas to get the most value from them.
What advice would you give to anyone who is considering an apprenticeship?
Ultimately, how you enter your career is down to you. A lot of people will advise you on many different things, or perhaps push you in the same direction they went. With this, I would say think carefully whether an apprenticeship is for you.
Speak to apprentices in the companies that you are applying for, attend open days or events that will give you the details you need to help you decide and why not even ask for a week’s work experience first to see if you like it?
I think the key piece of advice I needed when I considered an apprenticeship was the reassurance that apprentices would not hit a glass ceiling compared to a graduate. Once you firmly believe that, then you need to really research the company or the industry, make sure it’s what you want to do and start applying. You’re bound to have loads of questions whilst applying or even just looking – so find someone to give you those answers (online forums, the company HR email, friends / family etc). You’ll know if the apprenticeship is really for you or not.
Tell us something about apprenticeships that can’t be found on websites?
Not all apprenticeships would involve you relocating, but mine did. At first it was a steep learning curve, adjusting to paying bills, cooking healthy meals and generally housekeeping tasks that I wasn’t used to (I’ve yet to master ironing!). So along with those things comes a new sense of maturity and independence.
Another part, that perhaps isn’t highlighted as much as other positives, is the social side of going to work. If you think you’re spending a third of your day, five times a week with your colleagues they soon become your work mates and naturally – work becomes more fun – the same concept of college/school. Also being in a diverse environment, you learn to adapt and communicate in different ways to different people. This is key in the role I’m in at the moment because you have technical colleagues, non-technical colleagues, clients and other interested parties all with a different understanding of the situation, so to be able to communicate to different audiences is a skill you can use in and outside of the apprenticeship.
Any additional comments, thoughts, useful information?
As I’ve mentioned, your network is vital to your own development. Even if it means you having to go and make the effort to speak to people you think wouldn’t necessarily want to speak to you, because I guarantee you’ll be surprised at how helpful people are, particularly to young starters. As long as you appreciate their help, they are often motivated to go out of their way to teach you even more. With time, you’ll also find that they come to you for help – however small.
Finally, it’s a bit of a cliché but you get out what you put in to the apprenticeship. Keep asking people questions until you fully understand things; they’ve agreed to take an apprentice on the team because they want to help share their knowledge, so take it.