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There was a time when businesses saw apprentices as cheap labour or a box ticked, but today IT suppliers are receiving business benefits while recruits themselves gain an alternative entry point to a career in IT.
With student tuition fees putting many young people off a university degree, more and more see apprenticeships as an alternative. Potential IT students are having their heads turned by an increasing number of programmes being made available by companies in the IT services sector.
IT businesses large and small are taking on apprentices and offering rewarding experiences and qualifications. For example, global IT giant Accenture has an apprentice scheme in Newcastle, while SME services firm MCSA has been offering apprenticeships since 2012.
IT services company Computacenter launched its apprentice programme for 16 to 18-year-olds in 2013 with nine apprentices in its technology engineering group, but the scheme has grown quickly.
Since 2013, Computacenter has taken on about 180 apprentices and expanded the programme into IT and business administration. Last year it hired 40 apprentices. The apprentices are spread across the country at customer sites or at Computacenter’s Hatfield and Milton Keynes sites.
Craig Cobb, future talent consultant at Computacenter, said this year the company hopes to expand the programme into engineering and sales.
Computacenter’s apprentice scheme is run by external service providers and offers level 3 diplomas (the equivalent of two A-levels), but it is now looking to move into higher level 4 apprenticeships (foundation degree level) and full degrees.
The apprentices earn an average of £10,000 in the one-year scheme while they study. It is the work experience aspect that sets the scheme apart from the traditional academic route to a career in IT.
Cobb said the scheme offers business advantages by providing a pipeline of good employees. About 73% of the apprentices who have joined the programme have remained with the company after completing their 12-month training.
The scheme has reduced the Computacenter’s staff attrition rate, which is something that its customers value. “We are finding that apprentices are a lot more loyal as a workforce,” said Cobb.
Less staff attrition
Customers prefer not to have changes to the people working on their contract, said Cobb. Computacenter even has to pay penalties if it fails to meet its set staff attrition rate.
Another business benefit of taking on apprentices is freeing up more experienced staff to do higher-value work such as team leadership roles, said Cobb. “We have seen work shifted to apprentices to allow people to develop themselves internally,” he added.
Cobb said times have changed and apprentices are seen as a valuable resource, which wasn’t always the case. “In the industry before, apprentices were often seen as cheap labour, but now they are a critical part of the business,” he said.
For example, the very first apprentice in Computacenter’s scheme became leader of a team of eight people, all older than him, within a year of graduating from the programme. “He is still only 24,” said Cobb.
Meet the Computacenter apprentices
Adam Robinson, 18, set to finish the apprentice programme in April
Before joining the Computacenter apprentice programme, Robinson was working part time for Iceland and completing a level 3 IT course at college.
With a keen interest in IT, he saw the scheme as a way to get the type of job he wanted and get a level 3 equivalent in education at the same time. “I could therefore continue to do what I was doing at college, but gain vital work experience that will inevitably improve my chances of getting a job at the end,” he said.
Robinson is currently working on a customer site as a first-line analyst at an insurance company customer of Computacenter.
“Throughout my current role, I am responsible for managing call and email contact from users,” he said. “I also perform queue management roles, updating users on incidents and directing them to the correct resolver team.”
Robinson said most of his friends are still in college and unsure what to do for a career. Meanwhile, he is mapping out his career with experience to back up the theories.
For example, in the future, Robinson wants to focus on project management. “I enjoy managing people and teams, and overseeing small projects,” he said. “I want to get into it as early as possible so I can begin managing projects on a larger scale.
“An apprenticeship scheme is a great way for most young people to get into IT as the majority of jobs require you to have a few years’ experience to get in the door. However, with an apprenticeship you can start working straight from school and come into a well-established company.”
Lee Fuller, 18, finished the scheme in September 2015
Fuller was studying A-levels in IT, music, history and psychology when he joined the Computacenter apprentice programme.
He said he saw the scheme as a way to progress in the IT industry and “gain the relevant skills and experience needed to climb up the ladder”.
Had Fuller not taken up an apprenticeship, he thinks he would be studying for a degree in IT or possibly music. “However, the apprenticeship has given me great qualifications and on-the-job training, which I could not have received at university,” he said.
Fuller has a strong interest in IT and was inspired by family members who are already in the industry. “My brothers both work with IT and this has inspired me to follow a career in this area,” he said. “When I was younger, my interest began with building PCs and basic troubleshooting, and this has developed into a wider interest in scripting and development.”
He is currently seconded as a technical analyst and supports service desks for Computacenter globally. He already knows what he would like his next step to be. “I would like to further myself in a technical role such as this one, and grow into either a Wintel or Messaging role once the opportunity arises.”
Fuller said many of his friends are still doing A-levels, but are increasingly interested in apprenticeships, having seen what he is doing. “After my success at Computacenter, many of them have been inspired to get apprenticeships themselves in various career areas,” he said.
“I believe apprenticeship schemes are a great route to a career in IT. The qualifications available are recognised at a managerial level, and you would obtain these while gaining experience and being paid at a reasonable rate.”
Kieran Riley, 18, due to complete the programme in September
Riley had just finished his A-levels when he joined the Computacenter apprentice scheme.
“I joined the apprenticeship scheme because I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to widen my skills in the IT sector,” he said. “If I hadn’t started this apprenticeship, I would be at university doing computing, but I feel the apprenticeship was a better option as I earn while I learn and I’ve now already got my foot in the door in the business area I want to be in.”
Riley said his main interest is business with “a slight interest in IT”, but he wants to get more involved with IT and improve his skills and knowledge.
He is currently a first-line analyst, supporting users for a Computacenter customer in the retail banking sector, but he wants to try other things before deciding where his future lies.
Some of his friends are doing apprenticeships and some are at university, and he thinks the choice between university and an apprenticeship is down to personal preference. “I believe this was the best decision for me and so do my other friends who have followed the same path,” he said.
“Apprentice schemes in IT give anyone a chance to get a job in IT. I had very little IT experience before this apprenticeship and now my knowledge is so much more advanced. It’s given me the opportunity to work in a growing industry for a well-recognised organisation.”
Kreston Edghill, 17, finished the apprentice scheme in June 2016
Edghill began his apprenticeship with Computacenter two weeks after leaving school, having completed his GCSEs.
He thinks he would have joined an apprentice scheme anyway, but it might not have been in IT. “I think I would be completing another apprenticeship, most probably in a less preferred area,” he said.
When he joined the programme, he was interested in IT but had no experience. “Computacenter was accommodating and helped me from the fundamental levels to the technical qualifications,” he said.
Edghill currently provides IT support for users at a major retail bank as a first-line analyst. He said he has a variety of responsibilities, including using programming tools and services using C+ and Visual Studio, working on an online banking system and running reports.
He said most of his friends went into the sixth form and college, but that most of them wish they had done an apprenticeship after seeing his success. “Several of my friends have now started an apprenticeship, except they are now one year behind,” he said.
During his apprenticeship, Edghill has developed a passion for co-ordinating processes. “I am now being mentored by the project manager/business analyst so I can see how problems are managed from start to finish,” he said.