Forget The IT Crowd, Apprentices are the business!

Unsure about what to do next? Don’t know whether university is for you? Wondering what else is out there?

If the answer to any of these is yes…then read on…


As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, we have teamed up with Microsoft to discuss the importance of apprenticeships as well as looking at those who have had first-hand experience in dealing with apprentices from the renowned Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme.

Recently I spoke to Ben Gower the CEO of Perspicuity, a business that takes on Microsoft apprentices – through Learning Partner, QA. Ben believes that an apprenticeship is an incredible way for young people to get their foot in the door of the working world whilst learning hands-on about every aspect of business and believes that taking on apprentices has been a fundamental part of the growth of his business.

Deciding what to do with your career, and what industry you want to be a part of, is obviously such an important and huge decision to make and so I wanted to speak to Ben to find out more about how young people can benefit from the Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme.

Tell me about yourself, your company and your role:
The company is Perspicuity. For the uninitiated, the word means ‘clear’, to speak clearly is to speak with perspicacity. We deploy Microsoft technologies for our customers and for our partner’s customers. So basically, we take Microsoft technology and we make it go! And my role within the company is the CEO; which basically means I deal with everything when it goes wrong, and nothing when it goes right!

How many Microsoft apprentices work at Perspicuity?
We’ve had about 16 go through our programme, we were one of the earlier companies to take on the apprentices about five years ago. The Microsoft apprenticeship programme lasts about 14 months and about half of our apprentices stay with us, and some go off to work for other companies and do something completely different, such as music, retail, defence and catering.

What kind of career opportunities can Microsoft apprentices achieve at your company?
At Perspicuity, you can do anything you like! We have ex-apprentices who have a wide variety of roles from sales, marketing and operations, to people in tech support, which is a fairly standard route, and people in Migrations who migrate IT systems to the cloud, and others who have moved into development- writing code etc. There really are a huge variety of jobs in the IT sector, and they don’t all involve writing code.

Why do you hire Microsoft apprentices?
We want to train the stars of the future. Hiring them at a young age means we can help shape them and their future career paths. At Perspicuity, how we do things is much more important than why we do them, which is what differentiates us within our market; so, what you get at the end of an apprenticeship, is someone who instinctively works to the company’s values and that is much harder to un-train in people than it is to train people. They also have an extra layer of training, experience and confidence, which is extremely valuable to any business.

What skills do you look for when hiring apprentices at your company?
We’re looking for energy and enthusiasm. Energetic personality types are generally the ones who tend to thrive with us…that doesn’t necessarily mean noisy! I mean people who have got the energy to cope with the ups and the downs, to cope with the learning, to cope with problem solving etc. Generally speaking, we’re looking for people who have got a strong desire to succeed, an appetite to learn and that level of energy to get yourself through the process.

Is there an age limit on the apprentice programme? 
The apprentices tend to be young and I don’t think we’ve had people apply who are older than early twenties, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t! It’s interesting, in our industry we have a problem of both age and sex as being perceived barriers to entry and I have no idea why. It’s really difficult.

Yeah, I can imagine. It’s a terrible stereotype but when you think of the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Apple etc, all head figures are men. You’ve got the Zuckerberg’s, Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ etc and they’re all so well-known, so it certainly could come across as a male dominated industry. 
It does, sadly. And the reality is that when you walk into Microsoft HQ in Reading, it feels like 50:50 men and women but when you come out to where we are, it is sadly less like that. And recruitment is really difficult and it’s a real shame.

Well hopefully this article can encourage young women to apply for apprentice programme too! 
Exactly! Hopefully this will help!

From a business point of view, what benefits do apprentices bring to your company?
From our perspective, it’s about our employees being instinctively aligned with our brand promises. Because that way, when things start to go wrong, they will instinctively put them right and it’s quite a subtle requirement but it’s really, really important. Our brand promises are very strong and very important to us and it’s really important that we stick to those brand promises. And that is what we get from apprentices.

Do you think apprenticeships prepare you for the real world?
Not ours! (laughs) Ours are too good! Our apprentices leave, go to the ‘real’ world and then they come back again because the Perspicuity world is much nicer! Seriously, yes it does prepare them for the ‘real’ world. Certainly, our apprenticeships are all about variety. All the apprentices go through the same programme which gives them experience in all areas of the business because we believe they need that solid foundation to prepare them for the real world.

Is working for a smaller business a good option rather than working for a larger one?
You will certainly get much closer to understanding what business is all about and how business actually works working for a smaller company. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, some people prefer working for smaller businesses, others prefer working for larger businesses. My preference is smaller, I think it’s a wonderful vibrant environment that we have here and when it’s tough, it’s tough for all of us and when it’s great, it’s great for all of us.

It keeps it real and I think it’s easy to lose touch with what is real. It also gives you access to senior decision makers, I’m a senior decision maker but I’m also a fairly normal person and not a megalomaniac, and it gives them a huge amount of confidence. I’ve seen young people here who have been put in environments with Directors and decision makers, that when I was that age I would have found hugely challenging and frightening, and when I see them operating in it they look completely comfortable and confident. So, I think working in a smaller company it’s a bit more of a ‘real’ environment.

What achievements can apprentices make on a regular basis?
We’ve got a pretty structured programme, a career map that shows our apprentices which roads to go down to reach certain goals and objectives. Some of those goals and objectives allow them to reach the next one and some of them allow them to get to a higher grade, a higher salary, better benefits, more holiday etc. and others allow them to move along learning more skills and how to develop their careers. We very much recognise that someone just out of school or college will need more guidance and more structure than somebody who has already been in the workplace for 5-10 years.

Why should young people take part in the Microsoft Apprenticeship programme? 
It’s only been a positive experience for us as a company and for me individually. From a human perspective, seeing another person develop is tremendously rewarding, it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do in business. So, working with Microsoft on the Apprenticeship programme has been incredibly rewarding.

For a young person, you’re probably thinking about an apprenticeship programme because you’re not certain about what you want to do because if you were, you’d already be doing it! I think for those who haven’t decided that their off to *this* university to do *this* course, an apprenticeship is fantastic, and the Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme will give you a whole insight into business that you would never see if you’d have just gone straight into a role somewhere.

Our apprentices learn about all different aspects of business, from marketing and sales to writing code, and that experience is so valuable when it comes to them making their decision for what they want to do. The Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme gives you that. And there are tens of thousands of Microsoft businesses in the UK that recognise apprenticeships, so the opportunities for apprentices are endless.
What’s more, apprenticeships give young people the chance to earn whilst they’re learning a trade, which is great – so they can enjoy doing the things they love, outside of work too.

Can you share your top tips for young people deciding their career options? 
Number one is go get a job now! It doesn’t matter what it is, even a paper round, it really, really doesn’t matter what that job is. There’s a reason for that and that is at this stage of your career, it’s really difficult for employers to differentiate whether it’s between you and someone else, because you’ll have your GCSEs and your A-Levels, and they will be broadly similar grades. It’s difficult for us to choose which person we want to join our company so if you’ve already got a job or had a job, it gives you some reference points and gives you something to talk about and there really is no substitute for that. Don’t wait for it to come to you!

Number two is think about what your best qualities are, what would your relatives and friends say they are and listen to what they say. Then match that to the thing you want to do and not necessarily the career. Think about what would you like to do? What would you like to be known for? Don’t necessarily think about what industry you want to be in, because actually all industries need sales people, all industries need marketeers, all industries require technical people etc., so don’t necessarily think about the industry- think what people would say about you and then think about how you would apply what they’re saying to something you feel passionate about.

It was fascinating to have the chance to speak to Ben and encouraging to hear just how passionate he is about the Microsoft Apprenticeship Programme. The main thing I took away is that through the scheme, young people really are given the opportunity to learn about every aspect of business. And as Ben says, the opportunities that young people must continue their development are endless once you’ve got a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and what industry you want to be working in.

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!

Microsoft has a longstanding commitment to increase the relevance and uptake of apprenticeships in the digital tech sector. The company announced in 2017 that it wanted to create 30,000 more apprentice starts in its Partner and Customer business by the end of 2020.

Microsoft’s Apprenticeship programme aims to give promising, motivated young people a vital first step in their digital technology careers, combining hands-on learning with qualification-led training, to give you a kick start to your career.

Digital apprenticeships are not just for those who are looking to pursue a technical career – we also have a range of roles available across sales, marketing and business, so if you’re looking for an alternative to university, where you can earn whilst you learn, then an apprenticeship could be the right path for you.

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