National Apprenticeship Week: Apprentices Will Set You Up For Future Success

Microsoft Apprentice Michael Castro Lopes meets with colleagues at the Vodafone Group

As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, I caught up with Josh Maddison, future talent manager at the Vodafone Group, which takes on Microsoft apprentices through Learning Partner QA, to find out the benefits of the Microsoft Apprenticeship programme and get his thoughts on whether on-the-job experience is more valuable than the academic university role.

Josh believes the skills and hands on-experience you get on Apprenticeship programmes will set you up for future success and he gives his top tips for those looking at career options. Check out our article here!

Tell me about your role at Vodafone?
I’m the future talent manager at the Vodafone Group, where I look after all the youth programmes for graduates, apprentices, interns and work experience, that gives opportunities to children, across the UK and Europe.

How many Microsoft apprentices work at Vodafone?
We have just taken on a pilot apprenticeship programme here at the Vodafone Group and we’re looking to accelerate it this year. We currently have five Microsoft apprentices on our Software Development Programme within our Technology Apprentice Programme, which is a two-year programme. We are also looking at demand for September this year and we’re hoping to hire an additional 10 plus apprentices on that programme.

Why do you hire Microsoft apprentices?
Microsoft apprentices play a big part at the Vodafone Group, particularly in software development, as technology is at the heart of our company. Things like software development for Internet of Things or digital app development are key capabilities that we need to build in the company and that’s where having the Microsoft Apprentice Programme really helps. It helps build those skills in the organisation whilst giving great opportunities to the apprentices themselves.

What skills do you look for when hiring apprentices at your company? 
There needs to be some layer of having a real passion and interest in technology. So not just ‘oh I’ve seen something, and I’m interested in it’ but more ‘have you gone out and picked something up and played with it and tested it?’ And this is something that we saw with a lot of our apprentices when they joined was that despite being relatively young, probably college level upwards, most of them had actually gone out and tried something. Whether it was coding, or building their own app or something around automation, that sort of keen interest in technology is a core part for us.
There are also the baseline qualifications, we want you to have completed your A-Levels and preferably one that is relevant to technology, maybe one in ICT, but once you move away from those parts it becomes much more about behaviours and I think this is a key thing. There aren’t strict criteria saying ‘you must have this experience or that experience’ because we understand it’s about giving opportunities to young people so we’re looking for the core behaviours. It’s more about their ability to collaborate and the analytical mindset with that self-drive and self-awareness that you’d expect to see in some of the very talented apprentices, so it becomes more around behaviours and these are very much linked to what we could consider internally the core cultural behaviours that form part of Vodafone.

Do you think on-the-job experience is more valuable than the academic university role?
We have different youth programmes, and both have their different values, but I think the thing with apprentices is when you’re learning whilst getting on the job experience you really start to immediately test and take that theoretical element and put it into practice.
I think that on the job work experience really helps people build the life skills aspect that you’ll not always necessarily get at University unless you’re already very keen and you’re going out and getting that additional work experience and doing other stuff. As an apprentice, you are firmly put in that environment where you have to gain those hands-on experiences.

Do you think apprenticeships prepare you for the real world? 
100%. I think the key thing now is that if you look at the UK educational system, obviously University is really really good, and it gives you a degree, but it is a big step when you leave education and go into the working world.
There is a duty for companies to really help the youth and young talent to really understand the skills and experiences they are going to need to survive in the digital world. Apprenticeships really give you those life skills and development because we have a big focus on saying ’80% of your learning is going to be on the job and the other 20% will be formal learning, but we’re also going to give you skills development in between that’.
You’re not just getting everything from your role but you’re actually doing some softer skill learning with us within Vodafone. I’m sure many other companies do it, but I think it’s important for us to understand things like cultural differences, collaborations etc. – all those kinds of things that aren’t that easy to pick up.

What kind of career opportunities can Microsoft apprentices achieve at your company? Is there room for growth? 
100%, yes. There is opportunity for Microsoft apprentices, who are on our Software Development Programme, to go on to the next level and they can start to specialise a little bit more in particular areas of software development. There’s also the opportunity for them to move on towards a more permanent role within the business that focuses on software development with the key skills they’ve built up on the Microsoft Apprenticeship.
But I think the good thing that we see with all our apprenticeship programmes, if you come on to our Software Development Programme, is it’s not just one job or profile that fits all apprentices – they sit within multiple areas of the technology business. Some may be good at cyber security, but it’s a very broad brush which helps them when they’re coming towards the end of their programme, so they know that they can consider things across multiple areas of technology, which I think is important because we never want to pigeon-hole young talent into certain career paths.

Why should young people take part in the Microsoft Apprenticeship programme?
I think it’s just such a fantastic opportunity to learn a very particular set of skills that are going to be really useful for them to know in the future. Thinking about the Software Development Programme we have where it’s more based around development, testing code – code is sort of a buzzword these days and I think people realise that you need to have an understanding of code in the future of technology let alone for a specific career, so to have that skill really early on at such a young age whilst having a hands on-experience is really going to set them up for future success and to enable them to have this foundation to build upon.
It also gives young people a chance to earn whilst they learn, which is a unique opportunity.

Can you share your top tips for young people deciding their career options?
There’s one that is quite personal for me, and it might not be the most helpful ‘top tip’ but if I look back to the age where we see apprentices, a young student, you tend to focus on what you want to do, and you always pick one very particular role. I think the tip I would give is not to focus on one thing, the way the world is going there are going to be so many options and I think you can get stuck thinking ‘there are so many of them? What do I choose?’
The real question, for me, is not ‘what do you want to do?’ but ‘who do you want to be when your older?’ And I think if you focus on who you want to be as a person in your life, you tend to focus on more of the experiences of companies that can enable you to be that person as opposed to saying ‘I will be this when I’m older and only this!’ because I think you’re then very prescriptive on your own life. When actually, in the digital world, when you look back in 20-30 years you should be thinking who do you want to be seen as? And what legacy did you leave?

If I have one big tip it is to focus on the who and not focus on the what because then you’ll start to focus and pick up on all the skills and experiences that you know are going to help you become that person you want to be, and I think the rest just follows. Everyone tells you when you’re younger and it always feels that older people are telling you this ‘not to worry because everything works out’ and it is very true! You’re only young, so the decisions you make will have an impact on your life but in the space of around 6 to 12 months you will have to completely change especially with the opportunities around apprenticeships, so I think it’s just remembering that.

If there is one more tip that I would, it’s combining a few behaviours, so if you’re looking to get into apprenticeships or any type of youth programmes I think the key thing is to have curiosity and a continual learning mindset. At Vodafone, again because it’s more on the behavioural side, if we have people who are passionate about something and who want to continuously learn and have an appetite to do it we’re much more likely to give them the opportunity because we know that they are a self-motivated person who wants to learn everything and anything. You’re going to have much more success if you’re continuously thinking how you’re going to improve and develop yourself.

What we’ve learned:

It’s been such an interesting experience chatting to people who have benefited so much from the Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme, both personally and from a business point of view. And, with National Apprenticeship Week coming to an end, we thought we’d share our top three lessons that we’ve taken away from this week.

1) Microsoft Apprenticeships offer you the chance to gain valuable life skills whilst learning and earning on the job. We loved how open Joshua from WeGym was about feeling able to mess up as an apprentice as he was able to learn in a risk-free environment.

2) University isn’t for everyone. If you’re one of those people who feels they benefit more from a hands-on learning environment rather than an education-based environment, then apprenticeships could be the perfect way for you to start your career.

3) At this stage, grades are not the be all and end all. Look, we’re not going to sit here and tell you not to try your best at school because grades aren’t important, because they obviously are! But, if you struggle in school and your grades aren’t as high as they could be then focus on what it is you want to do and start thinking about how you can begin to get your foot in the door. Love radio? Then volunteer at your hospital radio! Love writing? Then start your own blog! Making these sorts of decisions will help you get the best start to your working life and as long as you work hard and really apply yourself to whatever it is you want to do, then you’ll be fine!

To find out more about the Microsoft Apprentice Programme, see more about the variety of roles and opportunities on offer, and to apply for the apprenticeship, click here!