Should you do an Apprenticeship?

Coincidentally, as I was planning to create this post, it’s actually National Apprenticeship Week. It’s coming to that time to decide what to do after you complete your GCSEs at secondary school or A-Levels (or equivalent) at college. Most people will think that the route after GCSEs is at college, and the route after A-Levels is at a university. There are many alternative options that are just as good, if not, better.

After completing my GCSEs, I followed the crowd and joined the Sixth form College attached to my secondary school. Most people just go with the flow and will not even consider other options.

Biggest Mistake: I didn’t do enough research.

There are many reasons why I didn’t: college was only a 10-minute walk from home, I knew which of my friends were going there, and I get along with most of my teachers. There were no problems with the college itself, so I just went and joined in the next intake.

As a 16-year old student, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I only assumed that I’ll join the sixth form and choose the A-Levels that I did reasonably well at in my GCSEs. If you are in this position, I would encourage you to do a bit of research and see what options are available. A-Levels may well possibly be the best option, but if you’re the type of person that is more hands on, learns visually and practically, and likes to apply their work to real-life projects, you should look into apprenticeships.

If you’re researching now, you probably already know what an apprenticeship is so I wouldn’t want to bore you with an explanation. Instead, I want to give you my honest opinion on them and it’s up to you to decide whether or not it is for you.

Note: I have finished my Level 3 IT Apprenticeship and I am now seeking out a Degree Apprenticeship with my existing company.

I work for a large IT services company and that my job role is a software tester. When I joined in early 2016, the organisation had a very clear structure for us – we understood what our job role entailed, the projects we are working on, and the support that was provided to us to complete the programme successfully.

We were each assigned a coach, buddy and mentor.

  • The coach is external to the project that provides guidance and advice on work life and is someone to go to when stuck on apprenticeship assignments or project work.
  • The mentor is internal to the project that provides support and advice on the project work.
  • The buddy was a younger person that could either be a graduate or apprentice further in the programme.

I only met my buddy once that works on a different project and in a separate building to me, but it was good to know that I had a relatable contact if I got stuck on more personal issues.

I worked very well with my coach and we had met once a month for only a few months. She helped me work towards my BCS certification and was there if I had any issues outside of the project.

I got to know my mentor very well as she is the Test Lead in my team and she is there to support me in my everyday issues both inside and outside of the project.

Although I haven’t met up with my buddy and coach for a while, the support is available and continues to have a very clear structure as I know who to ask for help and where I can go to find out the information that I require myself. As a real employee, it did take a time to get used to using HR and time booking systems and processes, but that’s all part of working life and being on-the-job.

Project work has been very exciting as I understood how my work contributes towards the operations and efficiency for the customer. I knew that my testing role is to establish confidence in the system and it is fun during the test execution phase where I get to explore each part of the system and attempt to ‘break’ the system.

The only drawback of the programme on the company’s side is their policy in regards to completing apprenticeship-based assignments. An apprenticeship should allow the apprentice to complete their assignments during work hours, however, this is not always the case because we were told a month or so into my apprenticeship that I had to complete the assignments out of work hours, in order words, home. This was not clearly indicated before the start of the programme, so we could either work on our assignments under the discretion of the project or work on them at home.

Tip: Ask as many questions as you can during the application process or in your interview. I certainly didn’t know I was getting ‘homework’.

As I have now finished all of my apprenticeship assignments, I am focusing on more new and exciting project work that keeps me busy. It’s great to have the next few months without any ‘homework’ but soon I will hope to start my degree apprenticeship.

Watch this space for the continuation of this post where I’ll write about my experiences with the apprenticeship providers and the training they provided me with. I also hope to touch on working life and the struggles with being an apprentice.

For more posts where I mention about my work and apprenticeship, please click here!

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