From education to employment

Four years on – from IT apprentice to manager

A recent study undertaken by QA Apprenticeships found that 80% of students know little or nothing about IT and professional apprenticeships. The study also found that almost three quarters of school leavers would consider an apprenticeship as an alternative to university. When I completed a Microsoft Apprenticeship with QA and Twin Systems PLC in January 2011, I was one of these students.

I had completed my GCSEs and at the time was deliberating between carrying out my A-Levels and going down the university route, or whether full time employment was a better option. I decided that I was keen to start earning money rather than study for potentially 3-6 years more. Upon beginning my search, a school classmate mentioned that they were carrying out an IT apprenticeship with QA which not only allowed them to work and earn money, but also allowed them to be trained on the job. There was no doubt in my mind this was what I wanted to do, I decided to apply and went through a rigorous selection process (that was a bit like BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’).

Upon starting the apprenticeship I quickly gained a large amount of IT knowledge by combining my theoretical knowledge with practical skills I learnt first-hand through ‘on the job training’. I have had some amazing opportunities throughout my apprenticeship, such as being invited to meet Boris Johnson at a conference for apprentices while being included in a number of exciting QA Marketing pieces.

Shortly after completing the apprenticeship whereby I worked on the IT Service Desk as well as training, a vacancy became free in a technical sales capacity (which was completely different to the job I was carrying out and trained for but an exciting new challenge). I applied for the vacancy and was fortunately accepted due to the technical knowledge learned from my apprenticeship, and on the job training received from working on the service desk. I quickly found that this was a great fit for my skillset and have recently been promoted to Sales Manager whereby I manage a small team of sales executives.

As an an active member of the hiring committee to recruit future staff (since completion of the apprenticeship Twin Systems have hired a number of QA apprentices, trained existing staff through QA learning and recently undertaken a senior engineer from QA’s new Gateway program), I do believe experience has changed both my personal beliefs and the companies ideals.

I can completely understand how, as a school leaver it is easy to give no thought to apprenticeships, throughout my whole school life apprenticeships was not the suggested method of further education, it was the standard GCSE, A-Level, University track. Even as a company, Twin Systems PLC’s standard recruitment policy for all vacancies was a degree was either essential or preferred. This in turn doesn’t aid schools leavers who want to potentially investigate a vocational education route. As with many other companies the requirement to have a degree would allow for a high level filter, non-graduates would often be overlooked for not holding that qualification regardless of their passion or ability to complete the job.

Fortunately as a business, Twin Systems has changed its ideals whereby the importance is now placed on having a passion for the area the candidate is applying to work in rather than formal qualification.

It is my personal belief that in order for apprenticeships to be adopted on a more considerable level two things need to happen –

1.  Schools should potentially offer more exposure to apprenticeship providers, allowing the training providers to demonstrate the power an apprenticeship can hold, so it can be shown that going to university is not the only option and there are a number of different tracks a person can take when leaving school.

2.  Employers need to consider the culture of their business, it can be understood that perhaps some filter is needed to remove unsuitable candidates from the prospective pool, however I believe that by simply amending the line on job descriptions to say “Degree/ Vocational Qualifications such as Apprenticeships, Internships and Technical Certifications Essential” as opposed to “Degree Essential” will go far in significantly changing the culturing of hiring throughout all industries within the UK.

A few school meetings with and Nine Extra words on a Job Description to allow 76% of school leavers to maybe try something else instead of feeling pressured to go to university isn’t that much hard work is it? 

At 21, in a management position I do not believe without my QA apprenticeship I would be here, I would urge as many employers as possible to consider apprenticeships. I would also urge as many Schools as possible to just give students that extra option, with the youth unemployment figures at 14.4% I struggle to think why as a school you would not consider offering that one extra choice to carry out a different form of learning.

Matthew Young is a sales manager at Twin Systems, the IT firm

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