The human apprentices behind robotic automation

IT apprentices are helping large businesses transform their back-office processes through software robots

Back-office transformation consulting company Voyager Solutions has put IT apprentices centre stage in its bid to address demand for robotic process automation (RPA) technology and services.

A growing part of Voyager’s service is helping businesses, mainly FTSE 100 companies, move to RPA by assisting them in identifying processes that could potentially be completed by software robots, then modelling those processes on robotic software and running pilots. Voyager also helps customers build the capabilities to develop RPA software themselves.

Companies in sectors with large back-office operations are flocking to technologies that can automate repetitive tasks. For example, a report from financial services management consultancy Opimas predicted that in 2017 – discounting acquisitions of startups – finance firms in the investment sector would spend $1.5bn on robotic process automation, machine learning, deep learning and cognitive analytics, increasing by 75% to $2.8bn in 2021.

The company has traditionally hired university leavers through a graduate programme, but embarked on an apprenticeship programme when it believed there was an opportunity to develop a pool of RPA developers to compete with offshore service providers.

“The market was getting quite saturated with RPA developers offshore, and we realised, through the work that we do with young people, that there is a lot of talent among people with the right attributes to be great RPA developers,” said Paul Taplin, managing director of Voyager Solutions.

Read more about IT apprenticeships

The company recently took on its first five apprentices to bolster its RPA development team. These apprentices are educated in modelling business processes and training robots to complete processes by interacting with various systems. “They need to think analytically and interpret the business requirements,” added Taplin.

Apprentices work for Voyager four days a week and study towards a qualification on a fifth day.

Taplin said the programme has attracted people who don’t necessarily want to go to university but are passionate about IT. He said it does not target a particular age group, but applicants tend to be around the same age.

“We find talent in some quite unusual places,” he added. “We once had a former captain in the army who was good at project management, and we have had working parents.”

If apprentices successfully complete the programme, they are taken on by Voyager Solutions as fully fledged employees.

Meet some of the first group of apprentices

Naeim Cragwell-Chaudhry

Prior to starting his apprenticeship with Voyager in March, 19-year-old Naeim Cragwell-Chaudhry, from West London, was working in a warehouse as his first job after finishing A-levels in physics and maths and an AS in chemistry.

He was not interested in going to university due to its lecture-based structure and the risk of building up debts. “I didn’t want to go to university as it just wasn’t my thing. I don’t like the environment where you are lectured. I prefer to be doing something, and thought an apprentice scheme was right up my alley,” he said.

Cragwell-Chaudhry was already interested in IT, so an IT apprenticeship seemed the natural choice for him. For example, he taught himself how to program. “That’s how I found my way to this apprentice programme,” he said.

On completion of the one-year programme, Cragwell-Chaudhry will get an IT qualification, which is the equivalent of an A-level, and will have 12 months’ work experience under his belt. He is working on automating a set of processes at a global healthcare provider.

Once he finishes the course, Cragwell-Chaudhry hopes to remain at Voyager and work his way up the ranks.

In terms of technology, he said he enjoys working with RPA as it is still cutting edge.

Had he gone to university, Cragwell-Chaudhry said he would have ended up with large debts. Instead, he is earning money while he studies and gains experience, which he finds “very appealing”.

Ricky Sangalli Korletey

Ricky Sangalli Korletey, 21, was born in Finland, but has lived in the UK since he was a young child.

He gained a BTEC in IT at college, but did not want to go to university because of the fear of debt. “It would be silly for me to go to university considering how much debt I would get into. I also think it is a waste of time as I would rather go into work and progress rather than having to start later on in life,” he said.

Before taking on the apprenticeship with Voyager, Sangalli Korletey had just completed national service in the Finnish army, an opportunity he felt would add to his CV, and was seeking a job in IT having previously been working on a service desk.

He is currently working with a global supply chain service provider on the first phase of RPA implementation.

“The main skills I have learnt so far are logic based, which is almost like programming in a sense. This has helped me better understand what software can do, as well as some of the flaws,” said Sangalli Korletey. “In the past I have worked with hardware, but really wanted to increase my knowledge of software as I knew this was a weakness.”

His BTEC qualification in IT meant he was exempt from some of the academic programme due to overlap.

When he completes the apprenticeship he wants to remain at Voyager and progress to a technical lead role.

Esther Animashaun

Before embarking on her apprenticeship with Voyager, 19-year-old Esther Animashaun, from Hackney in East London, was working in retail while looking for work in IT.

After finishing school she went to college to study IT, business and law, but soon decided she did not want continue with the business and law studies. “I was experimenting a bit,” she said.

Animashaun continued with the IT and had her eye on an IT apprenticeship. “I always knew I wanted to go into an apprenticeship,” she said. She found the Voyager programme through an apprenticeship provider.

She is the only female in the current batch of apprentices, which reflects a lack of girls entering IT across the UK.

Animashaun said there was a lack of girls doing IT and suggested stereotypes could be deterring them from entering IT. “Since high school I have often been the only girl doing IT, and even here I am with four guys,” she added.

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