Tag Archives: education

Training: the core part of any Apprenticeship – Megan Murray

One of the most common questions asked about apprenticeships is about the quality of training available. Is it actually worthwhile? Do you actually get taught anything or do you just do the rubbish jobs nobody else wants? Does the employer really care about you and your learning or is it purely to fill a quota?

Well, I thought for my blog this quarter I’d give some insight into some IBM training I’ve received, because let’s face it, before you start work it’s impossible to know what to expect from ‘training days/weeks’.

I receive training throughout my apprenticeship of course, with various formal education days around various subjects, I recently attended a Digital Marketing Workshop day for instance; then I have university learning; there’s online learning, with IBM’s ‘Think 40’ initiative which promotes IBMers completing at least 40 hours of learning a year and which provides lots of online videos, reading and even games to learn more about various topics; and finally there’s informal learning that happens every day, in the form of guidance from those around me.

Last week I went on a 1 week long formal education course, and I thought I’d make this the focus of today’s blog post as an example of one of these training methods.

I’d been looking forward to this course for a while (yep, looking forward to training, I said it!) I’d heard good feedback about it from those who had been on it previously and I knew it was centred around talking to and presenting to clients, which is something I was beginning to dip my feet in to with work and needed a real confidence boost with. Whilst those I’d spoke to had said that the course did have a bit of a tough ‘practice interview’ that they hadn’t been too fond of, I was still eager to go and see what I could learn. I knew I’d be going with new IBMers I hadn’t met before either which I always look forward to and it was based at a conference venue/hotel down near Southampton, so provided a change of scenery for a week too which is always refreshing.

The training itself was intense, and at times quite stressful, especially when you were put under the spotlight having to question a purposefully awkward customer, but it had fun aspects too and it really did teach me a lot. There were so many things that had been brushed over in conversations I’d had with others about how to talk to clients but that hadn’t quite clicked with me in the way they did through this training course. It gave me the opportunity to learn and practice, get feedback, and learn and practice some more, before actually going through this process with a real customer and gave me plenty more confidence for when this does happen. I feel more prepared now, more able to guide the conversation and with a clearer idea of how to get what I want from it, whilst ensuring the customer does too.

In a year’s time I’ll be invited on a follow up course to this one, even more intensive, with even more difficult practice customers, and even worse, I’ll be graded (always scary!) But, in that time I’ll have had a year of real life practice, a chance to read up more on what I’ve learnt and more chances to learn from others too. Plus, I’ll have learnt tonnes of other things in the meantime too!

So, in answer to those common apprenticeship questions: At IBM, yes, the training is high quality; yes it’s worthwhile, it’s relevant; yes, you get taught lots and it’s not just ‘rubbish’ jobs, there’s lots of exciting things to do; and IBM take plenty of care to provide plenty of training and development opportunities, you won’t come out not having learnt anything.

Megan Murray.

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My IBM Apprenticeship Opinion – John Longworth

Thinking back to when I began my time here on the IBM Apprenticeship, I’ve had a lot of amazing encounters and things happen. So I thought, now would be a great time to go back and give you all a small insight into all the good things that go on in an IBM Apprentice’s time.

So probably the best place to start is with the people. You meet so many of them sometimes it’s hard to keep up, but that’s one of the best things. There are so many other Apprentices you meet, with such a variety of experiences, expertise and sense of welcoming, it’s never seemingly difficult to get yourself unstuck with any issue or queries you have. It’s not difficult to find yourself a group of people either, wherever you end up, who make your whole work life feel like you’re involved in some sort of community. There are so many Apprentices scattered around the country, you’ll bump into them more often than you think!

The next thing surely has to be the experiences and activities you get to participate in. Just recently, for example, I was part of a IBM @ Wimbledon event for a select few Foundation members in which there where prizes up for grabs, plus the chance to go ahead and implement your own idea with the actual IBM Wimbledon team! (Unfortunately, my team didn’t win. Can’t win everything I guess!!). But that’s just an example of the types of events you could expect to take part in and have a chance to put yourself forward for, definitely something I would suggest doing and I’m going to continue to look for myself in the future! If anything, it’s an opportunity to meet and work with people that you wouldn’t usually on a day-to-day basis and you might even pick some new skills or tips along the way.

The number of work opportunities/roles and chances to pick up some expertise, in a technology area you couldn’t ever imagine yourself being a part of, is something that should, for sure, get a mention in this post. It’s actually, in it’s own way, something you have to take into your stride. Having that many opportunities available to you, in areas you don’t even know, but having the chance to learn, can become quite overwhelming at times. But from what I’ve seen and from my own experience, you’ve just got to go for it, put your best foot forward and just jump into the unknown, you often end up enjoying what you’ve done, picked up a new skill and become more prepared for the next role or opportunity that comes your way!

So, that’s just a brief few of the amazing encounters I’ve come across during my time as an IBM Apprentice. I didn’t really think all or many of these opportunities or encounters would actually happen, but they have, and I feel like I’ve tried to make the most of them whenever I can!

John Longworth

IBM Apprenticeship : yay or nay? – Joe Barry

When forming an opinion of the apprenticeship I often look back at what I knew at the start of the programme and what I know now. Two years ago all I knew about IBM was this first paragraph that is on the IBM website describing the apprenticeship scheme;

University isn’t for everyone and here at IBM we have a fantastic alternative. Apprenticeships at IBM are all about picking up new skills and lots of them. It’s three years of brilliant training, lots of exposure and an experience you simply couldn’t get anywhere else. If you’ve decided to dive straight into the world of work after college we believe our apprenticeship is one of the best learning experience out there.

This paragraph ticked every box for me. I had been on apprenticeship schemes before and I was happy that this was the best way for me to learn compared to university as the only other alternative. IBM was not wrong when they spoke about new skills, skills from employment and from courses available for all of Foundation. During my first role I was given as many opportunities to learn new techniques and master new skills as I could handle (clients have no problem teaching you new skills if it means you can become more useful to them). The responsibility that I was given allowed me to develop my organisational, technical and personal skills to a point that I could be a valid contributor to real world problems. New skills are not just learning a new coding language or programme; you learn to be a more skilful person.

Now, when I read that it was a three year scheme I was a bit concerned. My last apprenticeships was only for 1 year which I though was ideal as a big deciding factor in my argument towards apprenticeships was the fact that I was not committed to a specific subject matter that half way through I could lose interest in as could be the case when you are enrolled in Uni. If you share this concern then let me help you out, if you join IBM for the next three years you initially have a choice between Business and Technical programmes. This choice does not affect the education throughout the 3 years nor does it limits your opportunities. Switching from the two after you joined however is hard to do, possible but not guaranteed. I myself have never been 100% convinced that I preferred the technical side to the business, in fact since joining I have preferred the business related tasks I have had the opportunity to do over the technical. This scheme is set up so even if you join the technical programme, as I did, you still get a taste for the other sides of the business. Three years I believe is the minimum amount of time I want to be with a company that offers so much variety as IBM does.

You are not typecast to one area of expertise, if you have a change of heart you have courses and job roles out there that will build up your skills, knowledge and hopefully interest in what you love doing.

IBM Apprenticeship, Yay or Nay? In my opinion the scheme is the best opportunity for young people to pick up new skills, experience a role/specialisation that you love and connect with a massive community of IBMers that all want to push the business and one another to new heights. Only if you push for every opportunity and get involved with your own development will you reap the full benefit of the programme and understand why IBM have moulded the next generation of innovation.

IBM was and still is the best opportunity for myself and everyone who shares my views, dreams and concerns so it’s a YAY from me.

My opinion of the IBM Degree Apprenticeship – Megan Murray

Hello!

For my blog this quarter I decided to cover my opinion of the Degree Apprenticeship Scheme… and as a painfully honest person it’s always a little bit scary to voice your opinion on anything; let alone when your employer and people responsible for your future career will be reading what you have to say!

A summary for those of you reading who may not be aware of the scheme – the IBM Degree Apprenticeship is a part time degree over 4 years in Digital & Technology Solutions (Computer Science and Business essentially), and we attend Queen Mary University of London twice a week during term time and work at IBM for the rest of the time as normal employees. This year was the first year of the scheme and after a couple of weeks of exams the first year of uni will be complete!

The first opinion I guess I’d have to give is that it is hard work… you get plenty of uni students who struggle and they’re often not even having to balance going to work for one of the biggest tech/business companies alongside it all! It can be stressful and difficult to keep up with everything you’ve got going on, plus depending on your background, the content can be tough to get your head around, especially if you’re trying to learn stuff for work at the same time! Thankfully though IBM really are very flexible with it all and if you’re struggling, there is always something that can be done or someone who can help, but resilience definitely goes a long way.

The second thing is the number of opportunities to do something else in addition to your ‘everyday’ apprenticeship, it’s astounding! For me I wanted to fully focus on university and getting through first year until I really got involved in anything else, but I can’t wait to start to get stuck in to some other events and opportunities that are open to apprentices.

Thirdly, it’s massively rewarding… even more so because it is difficult. Whether it’s passing a mid-term or handing in a piece of coursework, or doing something to really help your team, or taking part in some Giveback. You are praised for what you do achieve, and supported in what is more difficult. The apprenticeship scheme at IBM is recognised and you are appreciated. It’s difficult not to be proud of yourself when everyone is telling you how much you should be when taking on a degree and work at the same time!

Finally, because it is a central reason why many people take apprenticeships, it’s undeniably a huge attraction not having to pay your uni fees and get in all that debt. They’re covered by the Government and IBM, plus you get a salary so technically you almost get paid to go to university, plus you get tons of real world experience and knowledge too… and that’s pretty sweet whichever way you look at it.

In summary, I guess my opinion is that if you’re willing to put in the hard work and dedication then this scheme is a really good option. It’s rewarding, comes with plenty of opportunities, gives you the chance to learn loads of new stuff and kick starts your career… I don’t think anybody could say that isn’t a good choice.

IBM Apprenticeship vs Uni (in the view of an Apprentice) – John Longworth

Firstly, a very brief recap of myself for anyone that may not have read my ‘Introductory’ post. I’m now in my 3rd and final year of the IBM apprenticeship programme (started WAY back in February 2014) and have worked on 2 very different client accounts in multiple varied roles. I came out of sixth form with a qualification in Game Design and decided University just wasn’t for me. So naturally (and after MUCH research), I decided an Apprenticeship would be the way I would go. Funnily enough – that’s what this post will be focused around, Apprenticeships vs Uni and my opinion on the whole debate, so let’s get into it.


So, from my experience, back in 2014, the cost of going to Uni had just risen and Apprenticeships were *starting* to become a choice for young people leaving education. This meant I had to decide whether I had enough passion for a specific subject to take the financial hit (we’re talking tens of thousands) and pursue it in Uni or to choose a route where I would gain actual experience in a sector I had interest in. Now, I had always had an interest in technology and sport, so if I was going to leave sixth-form and go into a sector, it would have been one of those two. I had the grades to go to Uni, don’t get me wrong, but after looking into Apprenticeships as an option, for me personally, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Paying so much money to go and earn a degree in something that I had no idea whether it would pay off in the end or not (or even if I’d still have the passion for anymore!) VS choosing an industry I had some interest in and spending 2/3 years gaining actual experience AND being paid for it. So either a Full Time job or an Apprenticeship where my options.

So the process of searching through the National Apprenticeships website and going to see career advisers for ANY opportunities which sounded like an opportunity began. This threw up a plethora of Apprenticeships in the IT industry (IBM, HP, Capgemini etc…), all of which were applied for. One  competency test and a trip to Portsmouth for an Assessment Centre later and I’d accepted the IBM offer before anyone else had even got back to me!

Now, let’s not make this ‘my story’, the point of this post is to give my positives and negatives of an Apprenticeship scheme compared to Uni. Let’s start with the negatives; not because it’s the first thing that comes to mind, but because I’m a believer of ending on a high note, so we’ll save the best for last!

Funnily enough, even hyper-critical me is finding it hard to pick any huge holes in the IBM Apprenticeship or why it would be beneficial to go to Uni instead. Maybe there’s a *little* bias in there I admit, but honestly, nothing is so glaring that it needs a specific mention of the IBM scheme. However, in a much broader sense there are cons to an Apprenticeship – nothings ever perfect. Firstly, not having the ‘moving out and going to Uni’ experience, which I imagine is what attracts a lot of people to go to Uni, because they get to live away from home full time, but that doesn’t mean that in IBM you don’t have that opportunity, you just have to find the right project far enough away! Or the fact it’s a steep learning curve to going from education where you’re just taught what you need to know, to go into situations where you might have to meet real life client deadlines and take on a lot of responsibilities which could impact more than just yourself. For some people, that could become a little overwhelming but if this is something you feel okay with missing out on or dealing with, then yet again, most things seem to be in an Apprenticeships favour.

Now for the easy part, the pros to the Apprenticeship. Let’s start at the point which sways most peoples opinions, one way or the other. The cost. I think this somewhat speaks for itself, you can go on from the Apprenticeship debt free and without the worry of having to pay off tuition fees, student loans and the like. Coupled with this is the fact that you ‘earn while you learn’. Earning money while gaining a qualification is definitely a positive thing and if you’re the type of person who wants to start earning as soon as you can, then this should be the biggest incentive you could ask for. Not only this but Apprentices learn on the job, all the while you’re building up your skills which can be taken forward into you’re career. For example I’ve gained a qualification in ITIL (Service Management) and can now prefix myself with AMBCS. Which is something I’m personally quite proud of, but also something that being in an Apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to do. The amount of learning I could do within IBM internally itself I feel like probably rivals the amount you could learn in a specific subject while in Uni!

Overall, even after going over all the pros and cons in preparation for this post (a lot of which I’ve not included, as to not drag this on too long), I feel like I’ve not only just made the correct decision now, but in terms of my future, whether that be within IBM or in my career in general, I think being an Apprentice is going to help me, no end. I mean, just take a look at the rest of the posts on this blog if you don’t believe me! 🙂

John Longworth

6 months! Feels more like 6 weeks! – Megan Murray

It’s official, next week will mark 6 months to the day that I joined IBM. I’m still so new, but now, already in that time, so many more new starters have joined and are even newer than me! I’m Megan, new to IBM and new to this blog, so … Hi!

I’m from the midlands, went to school, sixth form, had a couple of part time jobs whilst there, and had some idea around going into a design/marketing job after I had finished studying. I applied to study a foundation degree in art & design to see if it was what I really wanted to do before committing to university, and I didn’t even make it to enrollment. I thought travelling Europe would be a far better way to spend that time (and I wasn’t wrong!) The other important revelation though was that I didn’t want another year in school to see if a design-y job was for me, I wanted to see if I could cut it in the real world. My Dad was the one who suggested I look at internships with the likes of IBM, suggesting I could use my love of design in a more practical way, for a job in consulting maybe, or in marketing to aid communication. As soon as I started my research I realised this would be the perfect company to gain a year’s work experience with and I applied.

I completed the application form, agonising over whether I’d have a chance in a million; I completed the horrible IPAT, feeling certain that I had failed. Each stage had such a long wait for the email to say I was through to the next filter, but I made it to London for the assessment centre, completed the group tasks and I sat down in front of my interviewer ready with my presentation about myself and IBM. The question that threw me in that interview: ‘Why didn’t you apply for an apprenticeship?’. Honestly, it was because when I had first applied I had only wanted work experience, to see if it was for me, to help decide what to do next, but this no longer applied, I knew I wanted to work here, I like learning and I wanted to gain qualifications as well as skills… so, I was moved from Futures onto the apprenticeship application track.

It got to the time I was leaving to go travelling and I still hadn’t heard much, I thought my chances would be ruined because I was away and wouldn’t be able to go to London for interviews. However, IBM understood, I had phone calls on the roof of a hostel in Munich, in Vienna, a failed phone call in Rome thanks to building works, then more calls on a beach in northern Italy, then France. My application process was by no means a normal one, but everyone is different. I was in the south of France when it was confirmed I was being hired by IBM as an apprentice; it wasn’t till all the admin came through a week later on iffy WIFI on an old computer in a hostel in Barcelona that I actually allowed myself to believe I had it.

A month or two later and I had moved to London, started and completed the 2 week induction and got started in to my role supporting a software sales team.

6 months after starting and my role has evolved and expanded as I’ve settled in. It feels like it’s been no more than 6 weeks, but when I look at how much I have done, how much I have learnt and the opportunities I have had, well, no art & design foundation degree could of taught me all of that.

10 Tips to get that technical role – Simon Ainslie

Before I get started with the tips I thought it would be best to give a little introduction to myself. So my name is Simon and I began the IBM apprenticeship scheme over 2 and a half years ago now. When I joined I had the goal of becoming a Software Developer. Unlike a lot of other apprentices, I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I was very keen to achieve it. After 2 and a half years in the scheme I am now sat in a Web Developer role and am looking onto how best I can maintain and progress my technical career. However getting this role and working effectively within it, was and is the hardest things I have done at IBM. It challenged a lot of my expectations and there was an incredible amount of work that went into giving myself the opportunity and maintaining my role. After just over a year in this role (and soon to be progressing out of the apprenticeship scheme), I feel I am in a good position to now advise other apprentices joining the scheme who are keen to progress a career as a developer. I felt the easiest way to do this would be through top 10 tips, which I have integrated with personal experience…

Top 10 tips to get the technical role you want

Self-study

First and foremost you need to be committed to this as a career, there is no point just expecting it to work out it. If you want to do a specific technical role you need to show your commitment, not just through IBM courses or the giveback you did the other year. You need to show a personal commitment – time. There are so many resources online that are not necessarily IBM related that can teach you skills to help you sell yourself to that person when they think about giving you a chance. For example within software development, you should be teaching yourself the basics. There are a lot of different programming languages and technologies out there. Learn about them. Learn how to build small applications in a programming language. A good first goal is building yourself a website CV or a simple mobile application. Something you can tell and show people you have done. The reason for this is simple – most people in developer roles (and other skilled technical roles) will have a degree, that’s the long and short of it. So give yourself the best chance at competing with them. Make sure you have invested personal time in your future, it will pay off in the long run, trust me.

IBM Courses –

The IBM apprenticeship scheme gives you some freedom to choose personal targets for the year, use this to tell your manager what it is you want to do. For example set yourself the target, I want to get a basic understanding in C#. Then make sure you go online, research and speak to others in the area and find yourself a good course. It’s a great opportunity to commit time to improving your skillset. However there is a big mistake made by people who do this, not using it. You come back from your course and you feel like you know C# (or whatever you pick), good for you, and it is a great step in the right direction. What happens when your great opportunity comes along a year later, you tell people you know it because you did a course on it and when it comes to it you have forgotten everything? Once you come back from the course, set yourself personal projects and targets. Don’t just go on a course but use it, use it as a platform to build off of, Make sure you maintain and build on those skills.

Share knowledge gained

This may sound like you are sharing your skills and therefore putting everyone at the same level as you right? Why would you want to do that? Wrong. Presenting, documenting and sharing technical skills just improves you knowledge and as a bonus people tend to notice that you have done it. Knowing how to do something and having enough knowledge to teach others are very different. Therefore share, and show others how to do it, it will both improve your understanding and make you more confident in your skills. It’s also another thing to show the person you haven’t met yet who will give you an opportunity at some point. Building that portfolio of skill sand what you have done with them is important. They will ask you what you can do, and as with everything in IBM, they will ask you to prove it. The more ways you can do that the better.

Get involved in things inside and outside of IBM

This tip is aimed at communities and therefore ties into the networking side of things a little. It’s a little more than that though, join technical communities both inside and outside of IBM. There are countless communities of people sharing ideas, problems and advice. It makes sense to be part of this on the bigger scale, however not just to be a name on a list. That’s a wasted chance, be active, ask questions, respond to questions if you can but above all show your interest. We have already covered how there is a lot to know, but you can access good communities of professionals sharing tips and tricks both inside and outside of IBM.

Get a mentor

One of the best tips I was given was to get a mentor, it is by far one of the most important things on this list. As a guide look for a mentor who is further on in there technical career than you however in a position to provide you with guidance and insight that will help you progress. Personally I now have a few mentors, each from different areas of the business who help me in different ways. It is easier said than done to find a mentor and to ask someone you want to be a mentor and to do it. It involves a little bit of jumping in the deep end. Personally the best thing I can suggest is if you go to an event, or are part of a team or even go to a dinner with someone who really knows a lot about the path you want to get on. Just ask, it’s as simple as that. You can ask them, face to face, via e-mail or however you feel comfortable, just make sure you do it. A good point to remember if you are nervous or unsure is that in the higher bands of IBM people are encouraged to be mentors so chances are they will want to help.

Pick the right giveback

There are giveback projects that ask people to create an application and use technical skills (See share knowledge gained). If you can’t find any there is also always scope to come up with your own giveback project. But make sure the giveback you are doing can help you progress. As I have already mentioned investing your own time in the right way is important, and this is the same for how you invest downtime into giveback. As an apprentice the giveback you do will separate you from the rest, however (contrary to popular belief) it is more about quality than it is quantity. If you have been into 50 schools this year and done a talk about the apprenticeships that’s good. However if you have invested time into building or changing something that it now benefiting the client, the team, you or anyone then from personal experience I think that’s a more worthwhile.

Patents

Innovative thinking is important and respected in IBM, it’s worth investing a little time each month (normally as part of a team of 4) into seeing if you can come up a patent worthy idea. Also knowing and going through the process can be worth as much as the patent. Knowing the process and having made a few submissions (regardless of the result) enables you to provide help, support and communication with others who participate in this side of IBM. Manny of whom will be technical people. It’s a good example of an activity and community that can get you talking to those people who can help you build your career. It’s also worth mentioning that Master and Senior Inventors are encouraged to help and mentor younger teams, so there is a lot of support out there if you are keen on getting a patent to your name. This is more of a suggestion that can help if you are interested and less of an essential part of beginning your technical career.

Tactical networking

This one is less about improving your skills and knowledge and a little more about actually getting the role. Firstly if you are going to events and joining communities, make sure you network. Introduce yourself and have a chat with anyone and everyone. People will bang on at you about networking, and you will be bored of the word. But there is a reason they bang on about it, it’s really useful. You are expanding the number of people you can ping and ask about roles, opportunities and advice. You are expanding the number of people who will message you, that will increase your eminence (another buzzword so sorry for that) as a technical person if you do it right and that’s always a good thing. Secondly when you do meet these people through all the stuff you are doing make sure why you are doing it is in your personal introduction. Most new interactions start with your name and what you do. I suggest you add a ‘But I am looking to move into a **Insert role you want here** when I get the opportunity’. The more people that you tell what you want to do, the more people there are who might ping you the name offering something in that area or forward an e-mail that might lead to what you want. I guess the overall point here is that someone somewhere has the ability to give you the opportunity, and the more people helping you find that, the better.

Taking the opportunity

When someone does mention to you that there might be scope for the role you want chances are they will need to be won round, I mean, why would they give the role to you over a grad who has more experience in that area? That is the question you need to be able to answer. And if you give the right answer they may still consider you. It’s not easy taking a maybe and making it into a yes. For me I had to go to the account partners a couple of times and work with them on a business case to put me in the role. I worked with them and gave them every reason to give me a chance and thankfully it paid off. You will need to do the leg work, you should chase people, show them how much you want it.

Commit to succeeding

Finally being a skilled technical person is not an easy role to get. But don’t give up. It took me a year of being in IBM before I got lucky and met someone, who knew someone, who managed a development team. Some people will get lucky quicker and for some it will take longer. But stick to it, keep working and keep investing in yourself, it will pay off. It’s just a matter of time. Getting and maintaining the role I am now in has been one of the biggest challenges for me and it has not been easy at all, but it has been worth every bit of effort. If you are interested I encourage you to continue on working for that role.

To conclude, the last year and a half has been incredibly hard for me, however it’s been worth it. The tips above are things that I found out along the way and I hope that they help you to achieve your technical role. If you are reading this to see how my top tips compare with your experiences please share them in the comments. If you have any questions again please use the comments. I look forward to hearing other opinions and responses.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings!

Simon