As part of the Britain Works program, Microsoft’s DPE and Citizenship teams have been working with training company QA and e-skills UK to develop a year-long Modern Apprenticeship in Software Development.
According to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, small and medium-sized enterprises (between 0 and 249 employees) accounted for 99.9% of all enterprises in 2011. In their Quarterly Labour Market Review, e-skills UK state that there are fewer candidates and a rising number of IT job openings. The number of advertised vacancies for IT&T staff rose to 105,000 positions with the primary roles sought by employers being Design and Development jobs.
Trinity a Microsoft Gold partner was one of the first partners to get involved in the Microsoft Apprentice Program. They are a medium size business which offer a Range of IT services including; outsourcing deals, offer one off consultancy, development and installations for organisations in both the public and private sector. We had the opportunity to chat Chris Drinan (JT) and Ben Freedman, Junior Developer who participated in the apprentice program to find out how Trinity got involved and the overall benefits of the program to both the company and the apprentice.
Trinity got involved in the apprentice program very early on as the CEO, Steve McDonagh was particularly keen on getting people straight out of school and into the work place. They found that by taking on university graduates the skills they picked up were often not immediately applicable to the workplace. Steve shared his thoughts about the idea of a software apprentice program with Microsoft and a few other gold partners. The idea evolved and Trinity were invited by Dominic Gill from Microsoft and Ben Sweetman at QA to go along to some early think tanks on what kind of training could be useful on the programme. QA helped develop the apprenticeship program with formalised training, recruitment of apprentices and also managed to secure some government Investment.
Trinity hosted one of the first regional selection days in Coventry, 12 people invited and 9 turned up on the day of which Ben was one of them and ended up being chosen for the position at Trinity. There are 800 applicants on the programme nationwide. Chris said ‘The selection process was difficult, what you were eyeing up is the candidates potential because at that stage they haven't had any proven experience at all.’
However taking on Ben was a huge benefit to his team and Trinity as bringing on an apprentice means that you are able to train them up with the way the company does things without any bad habits that they could have picked up along the way. Offering this huge opportunity to a 16 year old straight out of school will mean there is a strong tendency that they will become very loyal employees.
Ben was always interested in ICT and was keen to find an opportunity where he could learn on the job. There were very limited opportunities so Ben enrolled on college course whilst still looking for an apprenticeship. When he found this one he was really interested and already had a little development background through playing with VB and Scripts. Ben applied for the role and was offered the apprenticeship with Trinity.
During the apprenticeship, Ben demonstrated to the whole development team that he was more than capable of learning his role at Trinity. He has passed 3 MS certifications and has a MCTS already! He is now on the track to be coming an MCPD (professional developer). Being early days, he is still developing his skills and still has a big learning curve ahead of him however he has established his credibility within the team. Ben has recently completed the apprenticeship and is now a junior developer Trinity. They have not yet brought on any other apprentices at the moment but plan on taking someone else on later this year.
Ben also really benefited from the apprenticeship. Ben said, ‘I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was all completely new, but wanted to get working knowledge and be trained. The apprenticeship far exceeded my expectations.’ There were so many opportunities for Ben to learn and develop. He went on residential training courses every 8 weeks, participated in regular onsite training, 1 to 1 tuition with a tutor available to help.
One of the challenges Chris mentioned was Ben did not have any peers that could related to what he was doing. All permanent staff at Trinity were over 27 and Ben was only 17. There was quite a generation gap. Chris would recommend to other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice that if their IT department is large enough to consider taking on 2 apprentices at a time, for peer support and encourage a bit of competition between them. He also said that it is important not to stick them in the corner and forget about them. Somebody has to be delegated to act as a mentor. Mentoring can be difficult when everyone's busy but it is worth the time effort.
Through the program Ben has learned a lot, he has developed customer service skills, taken on a lot more responsibilities and feels he has grown personally, academically and in the workplace. His advice any person thinking of going on an apprenticeship was ‘Have an open mind, be confident as it is quite nerve wracking at first but no-one expects too much, you're only 16! Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions but there's no stupid questions, only stupid answers.’ Ben hopes to become a successful developer! Continue to enhance his knowledge and to build successful projects for Trinity and their customers. Trinity are very keen to continue supporting these schemes and Microsoft initiatives.
‘I would recommend any IT department to participate in the Microsoft Apprentice Program, you don't have to be gold partners, can be any organisation. It's worth trying out and 16 year olds aren't all hoodies and hanging round bus stops and in the park! This program is a viable way of securing long term employees.’