Monthly Archives: April 2015

University Vs. Apprenticeships – Oliver Pope-Mostowicz

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

I’ve been asked before: Why? Why did I choose to do an Apprenticeship instead of getting a degree at University? Why would I turn away from that experience that everyone should have? Why would I decide to stop performing the magic trick of turning a perfectly good student loan into a disproportionate amount of fine Scottish beer and Subway sandwiches? … and all importantly why did I choose to not get a degree at University.

Partly because, as recently announced in national media (, IBM and a number of other companies are offering their Apprentices the opportunity to do a workplace-based degree – for which I have submitted my application and I am awaiting a response one way or the other to my participation in the scheme. But doesn’t that invalidate the point of doing an Apprenticeship, I hear you cry?


Let me explain, both why I chose to do an Apprenticeship, and why I have still applied to do a Degree.

Both of my parents are academics. All of my life, I grew up with the quite simply unquestioned assumption that in order to get a good job that turned into a good career, I should do well at school, work hard at college and go to University, from where I would be able to get a good job – and that was the path to success. Now, I am by no means blaming my parents for this – it was much an assumption I had within myself, and they have been incredibly supportive of my participation in the Apprenticeship scheme (particularly after hearing about all the incredible things I have had the opportunity to do – seriously, if you haven’t already, have a look back at my previous blog posts for a tip of the iceberg!), and to be quite frank, I suspect that this is an assumption still inherent in many families and students. It’s not your fault, we’ve just grown up being raised by a generation that understood that University was just what you did.

However, we live in a different world now. 5 year old children are more adept at using a smart phone than many adults, utilising computing power at their fingertips without thinking, computing power moreover that would have filled an entire room in ‘the old days’. Facebook is championing the roll out of internet connectivity to third world countries, the last general election in which young voters have experienced a world without social media is about to take place, and the way we consume education and crucially, how we understand the way in which people learn, is facing a huge paradigm shift.

School to College to University to ‘a Good Job for Life’ is no longer the only model (and some may argue no longer a viable model – but that’s a can of worms for another day). I chose to do an Apprenticeship because I knew that staying at University would hinder me, rather than empower me. I had a gap year working full time at Starbucks, and during that time I understood the concepts of financial independence (to an extent – my parents helped me out A LOT, but I began to understand that what I spent had a direct relationship to how much time I had worked), self-education and personal development. Going to University felt like a step back, I wasn’t being pushed and moreover, I didn’t feel the motivation to push myself. I knew it wasn’t working, so I opted out of the system I expected to help me achieve the life I want to live and instead looked for alternatives. What I found was the opportunity to learn the same skills I would have at University (but perhaps more applicable/specialised to the career I want), to work with industry thought leaders and for an industry leader and crucially, to earn whilst I learn and to further my financial and personal independence. Having made the switch I would not go back – I wake up every day motivated to tear through the day, and I am currently working on projects where my contribution could change the way IBM does business with our clients in the UK&I!

I feel like I have learnt more, both technical skills and business skills that will propel my career regardless of where and what role I end up working in, in the two and a half years I have worked for IBM than my entire time at college and one year at University. Which leads me on to the Degree Apprenticeship. The reason I have applied for the scheme, and why I am going to do everything I can to get on to the scheme and get a great grade, and more importantly, why I feel that this does not invalidate the passion I feel for Apprenticeships is because of the way that I learn. I know that this degree (if I am successful in my application) will improve my education and my expertise, will make my CV more attractive to future employers (both within and external to IBM) and, if nothing else, will allow me to learn more about a subject that I deadly passionate about.

This conversation never was, and never should be, about whether a degree is a worthwhile qualification. It is, and I don’t think anyone could seriously and legitimately argue against that. It should also not be about Universities VERSUS Apprenticeships (I know I used that for the title, but that’s a hook – what are you going to do!). However, and this is the crucial point, it is not the only qualification – nor is it the best qualification. A Degree and University aren’t the only route to ‘a Good Job for Life’. The most important thing is that you, as a student, decide how you best learn and what route will empower you to make as much out of your life as you possibly can. If that means going to University, great – I wish you all the best in everything you do. But don’t let the naysayers (be that your friends, your parents, your career adviser at college) tell you that an Apprenticeship can’t set you up for life.

The possibilities really are endless, and in the end it’s two paths to the same destination. You make up your mind, and don’t be afraid of the road less travelled (after all, there’s more and more of us walking that path every day, proving that it can be done!).

Apprentices & Graduates, view from the Boss – guest post by Jenny Taylor, IBM UK Foundation Manager

I’m honoured to be asked to be the first writer in this series of the 2015 IBM Apprentice blog and also delighted, as I view the IBM Apprentice programme as UK Foundation’s greatest success. As someone who was in at the start of the conception of the programme early in 2010, I look at where we are now and can honestly say that the programme’s success has been beyond our wildest dreams – and that’s on many levels.

So, going back to the beginning – we had some challenges in initially setting up the programme and we had no idea what to expect. It was not without risk. 18 year old apprentices deployed on client facing projects – would they be up to it?

5 years later and the answer is a categoric – YES!! ……..and that’s not just a few high fliers, oh no, that would be the 200+ apprentices we have now hired.

It’s been an amazing journey during which we have seen both our Apprentice programme and our apprentices win many national awards and gain eminence right into No 10 Downing Street. This needs to be put into perspective in what had gone before. Yes, IBM and UK Foundation had already won many awards for our graduate schemes but never had we seen such high profile focus and never have we had so many invitations to celebrate and share the success of one of our Early Professionals’ programmes.

For me personally, this has also brought amazing opportunities. I’ve been invited to the House of Commons, the House of Lords, No 10 Downing Street, City Hall and to numerous speaking engagements – all because of our Apprenticeship scheme. The demands are continuous and I’m delighted that they keep on coming. IBM is a leader in the government’s apprenticeship Trailblazer initiative and we are proud that even though our programme is so relatively recent in its inception, we are clearly seen as best of breed nationally.

Inevitably, we are asked how our apprentices compare with our graduates. Well, I’d prefer not to make a direct comparison. What I can say about our apprentices though, is that they clearly excel in areas where we also benchmark our graduates. So, our apprentices are in very high demand for deployment on client facing projects, they achieve distinctions on UK Foundation professional development courses which were traditionally run for graduates, and they are super stars when it comes to representing IBM externally. They have far exceeded any expectations we had when we started the programme.

So, what would I say to someone trying to choose between an Apprenticeship and University? I’d say, choose your Apprenticeship programme carefully and then GO FOR IT! No financial debt, a chance to get ahead in the workplace from an early age, and no barrier to your future career prospects. All our apprentices who started in 2010 and 2011 have moved into the business and gained promotion to the first IBM professional level. Our 2012 hires will follow them this year. That puts them all on equal footing with ex-graduates and other experienced professionals. From now on, all have equal opportunities to go wherever they wish to direct their future careers.

Goals and Ambitions – Guest post from David Stokes, Chief Executive, IBM UK and Ireland

And so our first blog series comes to a close.  And what a great run it’s been.  We all hope you have reflected on your own successes in 2014 and have given yourself some ambitious goals for 2015 and the rest of your career.  Let us know if you chose anything to do with Apprenticeships – we’ll all help out in any way we can to make sure you reach your goals – and we’ll certainly let you know if we achieved ours by the end of the year!

Now, to close out this first series in style, have a read of the below – guest written for us by David Stokes, the Chief Executive, IBM UK and Ireland.  David has long been a supporter of the Apprenticeship scheme and has attended a number of events to inspire and congratulate the Apprentice community.  his words below give a good idea of his goals for IBM and the industry in 2015, and he also gives us some advice for making sure being an Apprentice is as fulfilling as it can be.  Check it out!

Our industry is changing at an unprecedented rate and scale, and our company is transforming to lead in this new era – the digital era. We have made significant progress to date and in 2015 our transformation continues.

Technology has been a source of great innovation for decades, playing a key role in improving the way we live, work and increase efficiency and productivity. Today we are witnessing the confluence of many global technology shifts – in areas such as big data, cloud, social, mobile and security. The convergence of all of these shifts is hugely disruptive to the way we do business across all industries and sectors.

IBM’s long standing history of innovation has meant that our clients have and will continue to look to us and demand the best of IBM; the technology and the expertise to help them operate efficiently and meet the demands of the new era. They will also continue to seek our help to build systems that engage with people in new and differentiating ways, whether they be external clients or their own employees.

To take our company forward and continue to support our clients we are focusing on three areas: firstly, continuing to accelerate our investments in the global technology shifts, secondly innovating within our core business and finally extending our partnerships to drive innovation, which has been the hallmark of our company for more than 100 years.

Our people are particularly crucial to this transformation, both to the business and to me personally. We must continue to invest in building the skills our client’s value most, as well as creating an environment in which innovation can thrive in this digital era.

Apprentices play an important role in ensuring we deliver the best of IBM. Not only do they bring new skills and new insights but a new approach to working. In a highly mobile and knowledge-based business, such as ours, they play an important role in ensuring the effectiveness of our company. I am a strong supporter of apprenticeships and believe giving young people the opportunity to work hard, learn fast and put their skills into practice, on “real-world” projects, will enable them and IBM to succeed.

In reflecting on my own career, and my some 25 years in IBM, I can say with confidence that IBM offers an immense range of opportunities to learn; not just about technology but about many different aspects of the commercial world. Each of these opportunities are a chance to grow and learn.

As you look to build your own careers, my advice to you all would be to: always give your best and act with professionalism in everything you do, never stop learning – from your successes and your mistakes, and finally do something you enjoy. I believe IBM offers the opportunity to do all of these, and it is down to you to embrace the challenge.


Key Career Considerations – Ryan McManus

In this blog I will be sharing an insight into what factors I will be taking into consideration when setting my aspirations/ career goals/ path.

I should have set some specific aims and goals and have planned my full career out, but I haven’t.  Whether this is because I feel like it is impossible due to the fast moving industry I am in or whether it is a time consuming exercise that will be done and then not followed… I am not sure.

I am still an apprentice and every role I do, every person I speak to, every friend I make could change my career path instantly. Therefore I am taking every day as it comes and putting my full effort in to every task I compete.  I feel that if I don’t put in sufficient effort at this stage of my career, I will miss opportunities to get noticed, learn and most importantly, Network.  I am an apprentice and will take every opportunity to ensure I have as many career paths open to me as possible.

I am not planning to go through the whole of my career without long term goals. I think when my apprenticeship is over I will have to think very hard about the career path I would like to follow.  There are a few things below that will help me determine what my goals and aspirations will be and what career path I will take.

Key Career considerations:

What am I best at – For me, the top factor which will determine my career path and influence what I want to achieve is my skill set. Always play to your strengths. I am not talking about specific things here but high level areas like am I technical or client facing, am I good at sales etc.

Where is the money at – I am not going to hide it, money does drive me. I will have to balance where I want to end up and how far I want to climb; with how much that role impacts my social life/ family (when I have one!).  I will consider whether my industry is where the money lies, whether people at the same level ln the same sort of job are earning the same sort of wage.

Hours– What hours will I have to work in the career path I have taken?  Career paths with constant weekends or nights may be a factor that I will have to take into consideration.

How easy is it to climb – I like responsibility, I like to climb higher to gain more skills and experience. I will be looking for a career path that allows me to grow/ transform and looks to be the future career path for growth and opportunity, not just the one that appears to be doing the best currently.

What is the future – As mentioned above, I will have to think about if the career path or a similar career path will likely to be successful in 20 years’ time. It’s not the end of the world if it isn’t as people change within industries all the time but if you are an expert in the same industries for many years then other career factors like money may be easier to reach.

Job security – I will be looking at how secure my job is likely to be based on the path I choose and how high I want to climb.


Long/ short term factors:

Location – My career planning will probably not dive that deep, but in terms of roles –  the location of the roles will be a huge factor to where my career ends up. Do I want to work abroad – will my company enable me to work abroad, do I want to work in a City, do I want to be in a particular location etc.

Mobility – At the moment mobility is not an issue; I work away in different locations and away from home 5 days a week. However when I settle down and have a family, will being mobile start to affect my decisions in my career planning?

Social – The job I’m in, the responsibility I have, the location I am in, the people I work with. Does it offer what I want in social terms? What I am after now may not the case 20 years down the line. I like to go out at night, have meals, socialize with other apprentice/ graduate/ colleagues, play football,  play golf, play badminton etc.

Atmosphere and working environment – When trying to enjoy the role and job you are in – the place you work and the people you are working with. If you don’t enjoy where you work and the types of people you are around then your job satisfaction could be severely impacted.


I want to go travelling around Europe.  – I need a job with good pay and that will support that ambition.

I want to go skiing in 2016 – I need a job that will allow me to have time off in a particular time of the year.

I need to save for a nice car and a new house – I need a job that pays a fair amount of money for the job I do and the value I add.


My key ambition and aspiration is to climb in a company to gain more knowledge/ experience,  get more responsibility and as a result earn more money, whilst at the same time ensuring I enjoy life to the full! I am sure that the things mentioned above will be big factors while trying to achieve that aspiration.

I am a firm believer that you should work to live and not live to work!

Hope this blog helped!