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Apprentices flourish in IT services sector

Members of the apprentice scheme at UK IT services firm MCSA tell Computer Weekly why university was not the natural progression for them

Apprentices at IT services provider MCSA are happy with their career decisions after deciding against university in favour of hands-on training.

Muhammad Wasib, Dan Butler and Xavier Mullerworth are three young men with their heads screwed on. As members of MCSA’s government-supported apprentice scheme, they work on the front line of IT at UK organisations such as the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank.

While many in their age group face huge debts after leaving university and the tough and uncertain task of finding a good job, these apprentices are earning money and receiving practical IT training in the real world.

MCSA launched its apprentice programme in 2012 and took advantage of government funding.

The programme is run with training provider QA, which sets up boot camps for 10 weeks a year, but apprentices mainly work for the company at customers’ sites across the country or from its headquarters near High Wycombe.

For MCSA, the programme is vital in providing new talent. It had no apprentice scheme before.

Although the main driver was government encouragement, the company’s HR department was researching succession planning and the apprentice scheme supported this by bringing in new talent.

Apprentices usually start the one-year course when they have finished their GCSEs, but the scheme can take on people up to the age of 24. At the end of the course, as well as having a job, the apprentices will have a qualification equivalent to an HND and can then move on to a degree-level certificate.

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MCSA has put 10 apprentices through the scheme so far, but only one girl, a situation the HR department is determined to change.

The firm said it wants girls to apply because “there is no absolutely no reason why they should not be on our scheme”. MCSA is not alone in struggling to attract female apprentices. Accenture, which runs an apprentice programme in Newcastle, only recently graduated its first girl.

Muhammad Wasib, 18, from Slough, finished his GCSEs, including an A* in IT, and went on to do A-levels in biology, maths and economics. But he craved more hands-on training and started looking at apprenticeships.

“I saw IT apprenticeships and read some reviews,” he said. “I then used the government apprenticeship website, where I found the MCSA scheme in my area.”

Wasib recently finished the course and is now based at MCSA headquarters, working at customer sites when cover is required. He has just completed a stint at Associated British Foods, where he provided desktop support and patching.

Wasib said he has enjoyed being in real-life situations where he has had to learn quickly and use his initiative. “I feel that if I had done IT at university, I would have finished with no hands-on experience of IT,” he said. “But in apprenticeships, you get pushed in at the deep end and you are forced to become more independent.”

No debts

Another benefit of his chosen career path is that, unlike many university students, he will not be saddled with large debts.

He is now taking further courses in server and networking technology.

Another MCSA apprentice who left an A-level course in mid-flight to join the apprentice scheme is Xavier Mullerworth, 20.

“I dropped out of my A-levels to do an apprenticeship,” he said. He found the course after an apprentice scheme was recommended to him while at college, where he was taking A-levels in maths, chemistry, physics and computer science.

Mullerworth considered university, but apprenticeships turned his head.

“I thought I could get further if I got an apprenticeship and worked my way up rather than spending the next few years going to university, getting a job and then still having the debt to pay off,” he said.

He finished the one-year programme two years ago and now works on site with MCSA customer British Business Bank, where his role includes maintaining Active Directory and fixing day-to-day IT problems.

No regrets

Mullerworth has no regrets about not going to university and, from a technology point of view, cyber security is an area he wants to work in.

One apprentice who came close to going to university was Daniel Butler, 21. He was in the sixth form studying a BTEC in business and IT and had been offered a place at three universities, when he turned to the apprentice scheme.

Butler had already worked at a small IT company and wanted to continue his hands-on experience.

“I saw the apprentice scheme and thought that would be the best way to get practical training and dive in with customers,” he said.

Butler graduated from the apprentice scheme two years ago and has been working on site with MCSA customers ever since. He first worked at a manufacturing company, but now provides IT support to 100 users at the Green Investment Bank.

Value of apprenticeships

Paul Farmer, solutions delivery manager at MCSA, heads the apprentice programme. He was an apprentice at British Aerospace for five years and understands the value of apprenticeships.

“I was taken on straight from school and, after a year in the training school, went out into various departments,” he said. “As you moved around each department, you got an idea of which one you would want to work on.”

As more and more jobs are outsourced, many apprentice roles are disappearing in businesses, so it is vital for IT service providers to take on apprentices to fill this void.

Since the government has been encouraging IT apprentice schemes, IT service providers such as Capgemini, Atos and Accenture have made investments in such schemes. MCSA shows how SME suppliers can also play their part.

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