Helen Douglas, Director of Communications and Apprenticeships at Cisco

Apprenticeships brings benefits to both employers and apprentices, offering many different opportunities for both parties 

The Institute spoke to Helen Douglas, Director of Communications and Apprenticeships at leading digital technology company Cisco, about her experience of helping to set up a new apprenticeship programme at a challenging time, the role that apprentices play in creating an inclusive workplace, and the tips she’d give to any employer thinking about hiring new apprentices.

They also talked to two Cisco apprentices about their work during the COVID-19 outbreak:

We have been incredibly proud to recently launch our latest degree apprenticeship programme – which is larger, more diverse and geographically-spread than ever before.

It’s been a privilege to welcome 60 new standout young people to start the programme virtually – with apprentices collaborating, learning and working online via our company platform: Cisco Webex.

It was an exciting and inspirational kick-off which encouraged me to think more about the role of apprenticeships in the UK today.

The role of apprenticeships in the UK

2020 is a tough time for young people to start out in the world of work. And yet, new data from Cisco and QA – one of the UK’s digital education and skills providers – found a huge amount of optimism amongst young people, keen to land a place on an apprenticeship programme.

In fact, many young people believe that apprenticeship opportunities will bounce back as companies return to work; and that there are many benefits to pursuing this route. These include learning new digital skills, gaining confidence in the workplace and opening the door to a wide range of careers.

It’s this exposure to different career paths that we also passionately believe in. That’s why at Cisco we built a programme which is a journey around the organisation; helping apprentices to discover their personal strengths, business interests and a sustainable career path. We believe this approach is what led to 90% of apprentices staying with Cisco over the last nine years.

Powering an inclusive future, through apprenticeships

Removing inequities and creating new pathways to power an inclusive future is more vital than it has ever been. Most of those applying for apprenticeship places in the UK said businesses should place more emphasis on having a diverse intake.

At Cisco, our 2020 cohort is 47% female, 42% from minority ethnic groups and 35% from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. However, we must all, always, strive to do more.

We gain huge value from our apprentices’ new thinking, cultural diversity and fresh energy. They are the future leaders, and we need to make sure they all can help re-build a prosperous and thriving environment for everyone.

After the updated apprenticeship levy came into force on the 1 August, many businesses may now consider creating an apprenticeship programme for the first time – our advice for them is twofold. Firstly, endeavour to work with partners who can help you attract a diverse cohort and create new pathways to power an inclusive future. Secondly, build a comprehensive programme, working with all parts of the business, to ensure young people are equipped with the experiences they need to become future industry leaders.

As I reflect on what’s next for our young people in a post-pandemic workplace, I believe that degree apprenticeships and T Levels will be critical – not just for individuals but for the UK economy, too. There’s a lot of talent out there – let’s harness it.

Helen Douglas, Director of Communications and Apprenticeships at Cisco

Ollie Gerrard, Digital Technology Solutions Degree Apprentice

 "Transitioning to a new world of learning and working was made smooth, thanks to the capabilities, support and care provided by Cisco. I couldn't have asked for more from my employer and training provider who made sure we were cared for, and in the best possible position for this new way of working. One example of this support was when I decided to help with the COVID-19 PPE effort, and they supported me to single-handedly produce and distribute more than 2,800 visors across the north of the UK. Giving the time and recognition to this task is something that’s helped me thrive and kept me going through these unprecedented times."

Abu Bakr Ghulam Quadir, Digital Technology Solutions Degree Apprentice

 “During the COVID-19 lockdown, Cisco has smoothly carried on the programme,  with all our experiences being virtual. For my studies, I created a  plan to achieve CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) qualification, which I have completed. Our degree modules have since been moved online with weekly workshops and I have scored well on each module due to my study schedules.

“My day-to-day job has continued, whether it be creating presentations, meeting with stakeholders or continuing with projects.

“The transition to working from home has been a learning curve. Being accustomed to using my bedroom as my office and speaking over laptop has been a struggle, but support from managers and apprenticeship colleagues has eased this change. The global efforts of Cisco and our CEO, Chuck Robbins, to lead and support on initiatives to prioritise our wellbeing will stay with me well into the future.”

hdouglas workexperience GM preso


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