Staff and students from Stoke on Trent College have been celebrating their success at Graduation ceremonies this week. Students from across the college attended the ceremonies at Trentham Gardens whilst apprentices celebrated their success at the County Showground in Stafford.
Amongst those celebrating was Lyndsay O Brian from Erskine, studied with Staffordshire University in conjunction with BT. Graduating From: FdSc Information Communications Technology.
“Studying a university qualification MY WAY has meant getting a great IT job here in Scotland that I really enjoy and combining that with travelling to Staffordshire for one week every month during term time to study a university qualification, as part of my Higher Apprenticeship at BT.”
“Changing my original career choice from being a nursery nurse to a career in IT and software engineering has been amazing for me. Getting a job that offered me the chance to study a Foundation degree has really helped me in my work, and financially it has been great because I’ve been able to carry on earning a salary the whole time.”
“I would highly recommend this route. Studying and getting practical experience at the same time is a great way to learn and you’ll be amazed at what you can do.”
25 year-old Lyndsay O’Brien left school with vastly contrasting ambitions. On the one hand, she was predominantly interested in maths, physics and technology, but on the other hand she also loved working with children and had enjoyed carrying out work experience in a school and a nursery while she was at school.
She explains: When I was leaving school I hadn’t really come into contact with many female IT employees or engineers so the idea of that kind of career path felt like an unknown one and more of a risk. Childcare or education felt like the ‘safest’ choice and so I decided to study childcare at university and then went on to work as a nursery nurse. However the thought of a technical career was still in the back of my mind and I began to rethink my career choices by looking into jobs available in the telecommunications industry.”
Just before she turned 23, Lyndsay decided to apply for a software engineering apprenticeship with BT which provided the opportunity to study for a Foundation degree and earn whilst being guaranteed a permanent position in the company once she was fully qualified. The Foundation degree related to her role and could be studied part-time by travelling to Staffordshire along with BT’s other higher apprentices from all over the UK to study in one week residential blocks with Stoke on Trent College at Yarnfield Park.
Lyndsay joined BT as a higher apprentice and she now works in the Energy and Carbon Reduction Team in the Global Development Centre in Glasgow, working as part of a team to develop software solutions to business problems that will help reduce both BT’s energy bills and its carbon footprint. In addition to working on various projects she also mentors a new apprentice within her team.
She comments: “Working and studying at the same time has been challenging but it is a great way to learn new skills, gain new knowledge and apply this in the workplace. It has been ideal for moving to a new career. Studying at university has helped me to learn core aspects of my job and has deepened my understanding of the subject. This has helped to bring fresh thinking and new ideas into my team.
Lyndsay feels strongly that apprenticeships should not be seen as an inferior route to studying full time at college or university. She says: “My experience of working full time and studying has been very positive. My Foundation degree has helped me to build up a good knowledge base of the theory behind my role, increase my confidence by applying new learning in the workplace, and improve my time management skills as a result of studying and working at the same time.”
Lyndsay is very proud that she pursued her goals and has changed her career, but still feels that her earlier role in childcare has helped her to develop her all-round skills as an employee. She says: “I was very shy when I left high school, so I would never say that my original career choice was a waste of time. Whilst working with children I managed to improve my confidence and skills which ultimately prepared me for the leap into a brand new career in IT. She adds: “If I had had more exposure to IT or engineering careers in school I think my original career choice would have been different. This is one of the reasons why I now love to volunteer at careers events to help raise awareness and interest in IT careers and apprenticeships and maybe even help bridge the gender gap in this field.
Since I made that decision to pursue an IT career I am amazed at how much I have learned and how my skills have improved. I have managed to completely change career as a result of going down this route and I’m very pleased with the progress I have made so far.”
23 year old Vish Patel is from London. He also completed the same course at Stoke on Trent College in partnership with BT and Staffordshire University.
“I had already graduated the ‘traditional way’ – but combining a Foundation degree with a higher Apprenticeship at BT has given me a much better start to a high flying career.”
“Graduating MY WAY means earning and learning without debt, providing the experience of university without overwhelming you. It is flexible and helps you become a more established professional with lots of industry experience – the key ingredient most recruiters look for.”
23 year-old Vishal Patel from London had already completed a degree in Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Essex, before joining BT as a higher apprentice and studying a Foundation degree in ICT at Stoke College in partnership with Staffordshire University.
He explains: “After I finished my degree in Sports and Exercise Science, I applied for the BT Graduate scheme. Unfortunately I didn’t make it onto the scheme at graduate level but was offered a position as a Higher Apprentice instead. This involved taking a position with graduate responsibilities, whilst combining this with studying a Foundation Degree in ICT.
Vishal joined BT in 2013, taking the opportunity to rotate through a few different roles. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to a role as continuous improvement lead, where he drove business improvements and delivered a £27k per annum cost reduction, as well as embedding a new culture within the office.
As a result of his achievements, Vishal was headhunted to join another team as a transformation strategy consultant working directly under the head of strategy – which he accepted in an instant!
Vishal’s role as a transformation strategy consultant means he is responsible for compiling BT’s 3 to 5 and 5 to 10 year IT strategy. He explains: “My current role involves looking at which markets, products, architecture, methodologies and innovations we could use or exploit to ensure BT has a sustainable growth and increase in revenue for years to come.
Talking about studying for the Foundation degree in ICT, he says: “I found it much easier this time around because the studies related so closely to the work I was doing in my job day-to-day and I could apply the theory into practice straight away. BT, Stoke College and Staffordshire University were essential in supporting us with this though, providing more than enough communication channels. BT helped by giving metime off to stay on top of the studying.
Time management is essential though, as you have to fit in the academic work with operational work which is never easy. However, studying this way enabled me to earn and learn at the same time without having to pay back large student loans and for me, I felt I had a lot more support. I also liked the fact that, because we travelled to a training base for residential study once every month, I still got the university-style experience of living in dorms and socialising with all the other BT students from around the country.
Having won an Apprentice of the Year award recently, Vishal has high hopes of continuing his high flying career, aiming to become accredited as a six sigma master black belt within business transformation. He also aims to complete a short term assignment abroad and to become a business transformation MD or consultant within a multinational organisation as well as a non-executive director at board level in an organisation.
Vishal is a strong advocate for the higher apprenticeship scheme at BT and feels there are lots of benefits to studying a Foundation degree. He says: “I have been able to apply my new skills and knowledge immediately to my roles, I’ve been given the appropriate time to study effectively and I’ve been earning as I do everything!
It lets you combine earn and learn without debt, provides the experience of university without overwhelming you, can be flexible and helps you become a more established professional with lots of industry experience – the key ingredient most recruiters look for. The one other aspect I have really found fantastic is the network you build with all sorts of people from young apprentices all the way to CEOs.
25 year old Sarah Roberts from Oswestry also celebrated her success.
“I had already graduated the ‘traditional way’ – but combining a Foundation degree with a higher Apprenticeship at BT has given me a great job with lots of prospects.”
“Earning whilst studying has helped me save a deposit and buy my first house, which is a great personal achievement!”
Sarah had previously studied Law at UCLan and originally planned to become a solicitor. However after struggling to find a legal role, she decided to apply for a job at BT in Oswestry where her parents also worked.
Sarah was successful in gaining a role as a Higher Apprentice, which allowed her to work at BT full-time while studying a Foundation degree in ICT from Staffordshire University. The Foundation degree was delivered by Stoke College in one week residential blocks, which Sarah travelled to attend once per month.
She says: “I wish I had looked into Apprenticeships more when I was leaving school. I only really considered A-levels and University to further my education – I didn’t even consider an apprenticeship, or know much about them. I would definitely encourage school leavers to research apprenticeships and Foundation degrees so they know all the options available before making a decision on their future.
I have found the BT Apprenticeship and the Foundation degree with Staffordshire University an excellent experience, where I have been paid to learn and have a secure job at the end. The main benefit for me is being paid to learn and gain a qualification. From a careers perspective it looks great on my CV and helps me to be better at my role. In my personal life, earning whilst studying has helped me save a deposit and buy my first house, which is a great personal achievement!
Combining work and study can seem intimidating at the start because it is a lot of work, but as long as you manage your time well it is definitely achievable. I don’t come from a technical background and didn’t have much experience on computers before joining BT, so I was thrilled and very proud to achieve a distinction grade in my Foundation degree.
I really cannot recommend the Higher Apprenticeships with BT and the Foundation degree with Stoke College and Staffordshire University highly enough. I would really encourage anyone to consider this route and go for it!”