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The Westcon-Comstor apprentice experience

The experience of an apprentice who has gone through Westcon-Comstor’s programme underlines how important the apprenticeships are to attracting the next generation of talent

The channel has largely embraced apprenticeships and many run annual programmes that are designed to onboard the next generation of talent. But what happens after the courses finish? What is the experience of those who stay with the organisation that has helped them start a career, and what are the outcomes for some of the apprentices years later?

To get answers to those questions and a sense of what the journey has been like for an apprentice who has worked with a distributor, MicroScope put questions to Kai Barnes, Palo Alto Networks senior vendor specialist at Westcon-Comstor.

When did you start the apprenticeship and how?

I started the apprenticeship scheme at Westcon-Comstor five years ago in 2017.

I researched into IT careers in the last year of my Sixth Form, came across Westcon’s apprenticeship scheme on the Gov.com website, and signed up immediately. I wanted to get stuck into the world of work but with little experience of the industry, I thought an apprenticeship was the perfect solution.

The hiring process was like most apprenticeships in the UK, with activities including group tasks, practice sessions and individual interviews. My dad helped me prepare for all of these and I’ve been a part of the company ever since.

Had you wanted a career in IT/channel before you started it?

Yes, I had grown up around computers so moving to IT was a natural transition. It’s also why I chose to focus on IT at Sixth Form. It felt both comfortable yet challenging, and I used my time in education to expand my skill set and learn as much foundational IT knowledge as I could.

Did you hope to stay on afterwards and how did that process happen?

I wanted to be open to opportunities throughout the programme. To me, it’s about getting your foot in the door and working your way up. I wasn’t expecting anything, but my manager called me during an external training course in the last few weeks of the programme to give me the good news that I was offered a permanent role at the company. 

Thinking back, I was motivated throughout the programme, so much so that I finished a large project a few months before the apprenticeship officially ended. While my educational experience gave me a certain edge at work, I believe it was the dedication I put into the work and support I could give my wider teams that helped, and I think my team could see that.

What interested you the most during the apprenticeship scheme?

The cyber security side of the business definitely piqued my interest. It was a whole new world for me and I became more aware of cyber crimes and the various ways threat actors posed threats to multinational companies.

It took me a while to understand Westcon as a business, but once I got stuck in and researched more, I became even more fascinated. It also helped that the programme got us to work immediately, helping us to understand the theory behind the day-to-day roles at the company and how to support its partners.

Was it a big change moving from apprentice to full-time staffer? Were colleagues supportive?

Once I finished the apprenticeship, I moved into the Palo Alto Networks pre-sale role. In some ways this was a big transition because I was moving into a more technical role. But having already known my colleagues from the apprenticeship made it easier to adjust as I felt comfortable approaching them for help.

My colleagues were encouraging during this time and gave me the support I needed to change gears at the firm. Coincidentally, I was also given the opportunity to attend a pre-sale summit in the Netherlands – which occurred at just the right moment as I got to meet the wider Palo Alto team face-to-face and forged connections right off the bat.  

As you look back now, do you think that the apprentice experience was a good one and would you recommend it to others?

Definitely. I’ve already recommended a friend who’s also working with the team now.

Personally, I didn’t want to go to university without having a clear idea of what I wanted to do. This apprenticeship scheme was an ideal, if not better, alternative. I was able to get stuck in right away and now, five years later, I’m holding a senior role at the same company.

Do you think your experience shows that this is not just a short-term opportunity, but there is the chance to make a serious difference to the organisation you get the apprenticeship with?

Yes. If you set your mind to it, there’s a world of opportunities waiting after an apprenticeship.

In my case, I had the opportunity to transition to a more technical role, which was something I couldn’t have imagined happening at the start. It all started from my apprenticeship, where I remained committed to learning and supporting my partners and colleagues in every way possible. I believe that was what led my managers to come to me with a specialist job offer.

As you dive deeper into the role, you become the expert. You’re constantly working on honing your skills and specialisations as the products and portfolio’s change – and because of that, you become a crucial asset to the business.  But it all starts with getting your foot in the door.

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