From education to employment

Apprenticeships are key to building the UK’s future workforce

Jenny Taylor MBE, Leader of IBM UK's Early Professional Programmes

As the skills shortage continues to impact the UK – particularly the specialist skills required for technology and digital-focused jobs – it is becoming more and more important for businesses to diversify and look at other ways to bring on new talent.

Here at IBM, a big part of our own training and recruitment process is built on apprenticeships; in fact, we have been building our future workforce with apprentices since 2010 .

With National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) taking place this week, we want to take a moment to celebrate our apprentices and, in the spirit of NAW, how they can help #BuildTheFuture for UK businesses.

How it started

I started my Talent Acquisition career as a graduate recruiter and development manager. In 1997, my then manager highlighted an opportunity to support and manage early professionals within something called the Foundation programme – which, at the time had only been in existence for two years – and that’s when I really discovered an area of the business that I was passionate about. I became Foundation Leader in 2004 when it just consisted of our graduate programme, then we took on IBM’s intern programme, and in 2010 started our apprenticeship programme.

When we first decided to hire school leaver apprentices into IBM, we viewed it as a potential risk. Apprentices, like graduates, would be expected to work in client-facing roles, supporting our largest projects, and we were concerned at first if this would work.

The apprentices showed us immediately that they were 110% ready for the challenge and their enthusiasm, dedication and business results were phenomenal from the start. I was blown away by their achievements and quickly became a passionate advocate for apprenticeships. This led to IBM becoming an Apprenticeship Employer Provider in 2017 and, so far, we are delighted with the results.

The programme

A key guiding principle for our apprentice programme is to create a ‘ladder of opportunity’. Indeed, we are very proud that we have curated a programme, and a wider environment in IBM, whereby our apprentices (school leavers) can enter at any level between levels three and six and progress to higher levels. It’s this sort of opportunity and career progression that is critical to inspiring and helping our apprentices progress as best as they can.

Specifically, IBM’s unique proposition for apprentices gives them opportunities to:

  • Work globally with leading edge technology, such as AI and quantum.
  • Work with the world’s most prestigious clients in the UK and internationally.
  • Continually build their expertise via a wealth of formal and experiential learning opportunities.

The apprentice experience at IBM is delivered through formal learning and development, as well as on-the-ground task management. All our apprentices are assigned a professional development manager to assist and guide them through the experience. Challenging roles with clear career paths and upward progression are provided; and guidance is given to the apprentices at early career turning points such as probation, performance reviews, promotion and personal difficulties that affect work. We are incredibly proud that our scheme is now recognised as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (IBM UK Limited).

Once apprentices qualify, they haven’t just completed an “ordinary” apprenticeship but gained a wide range of learning opportunities enabling them to progress to the next step in their IBM career. All apprentices are offered full employment from Day 1, so no transition in employment status is required when they qualify. 100% of apprentices are promoted into IBM professions once they are qualified, and additional promotions often rapidly follow.

Beyond the scheme

In addition to leading our own IBM programme, I also volunteered to participate in a team of cross-sector employers and HEIs to develop and launch the first degree-level apprenticeship in 2015: the Digital and Technology Solutions DA. I now lead this group and am very proud to see this apprenticeship record 7000+ starts so far.  It is a huge part of our wider ambition for the tech sector – and contributing to closing the UK’s digital skills gap.

Through my own work and the inspiration of our apprentices, I have become an ambassador for apprenticeships. I’ve made the case for apprenticeships on countless radio broadcasts, news interviews, panel discussions, videos, blogs, school visits, government platforms, forums and conferences across the country. My various radio and TV interviews have reached millions of listeners in the UK. I was thrilled that my work as an apprentice advocate and in developing young people has led to an award of an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

I would advise any employer that hiring bright, inspired early professionals from diverse backgrounds will bring new ideas and productivity into their organisation. Our apprentices constantly amaze me with their level of contribution – and, when they discover what they can achieve, that makes them even more passionate and motivated. They are IBM’s future, and for any ambitious employer, the key to ”Building The Future”.

Jenny Taylor MBE, Leader of IBM UK’s Early Professional Programmes

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