Jisc is setting an example to the sector by taking on two apprentices, which also means we are doing our bit to promote women in STEM and helping to plug the UK’s technical skills gap.
Nicole Stewart and James Hodgkinson are both studying for a level six standard (equivalent to a BA degree) which, when completed in 2021, will qualify them as digital and technology solutions professionals.
Based with the security team at Harwell, Nicole is a trainee cyber security analyst, who studies through training provider QA, while James is a trainee developer, reporting to the futures team in Bristol and attending Weston College one day each week.
Jisc’s head of delivery, Kathryn Jeacock, said it was important to give Nicole and James all the support they need. She explained:
“We’ve started with two, but I’ve put forward a proposal that next year we take on another two apprentices, so we are taking an incremental approach; we want to learn from the experience and make sure it’s an amazing experience for them.
It’s really important that we support our apprentices well – it takes a lot of resources and it is quite intensive because they need a lot of mentoring and time.
Each of them has multiple mentors – a main mentor and other subject specialists in areas specific to them.”
Kathryn added that recruiting Nicole is an especially positive move for Jisc.
“I’m particularly pleased to have Nicole because there is a shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). At Jisc we have a lot of technical roles, but very few of those are occupied by females. We want to use our apprenticeship scheme to support women in technical and leadership roles here.
The focus on apprentices going forward will be how we can increase that support to women; it also fits with our diversity, equality and inclusion agenda and our sign-up to the Tech Talent Charter, which brings together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.”
But creating these new roles is just the start of our journey in supporting young people and developing staff. Kathryn explained:
“We’ve decided to do this now for several reasons. Firstly, it’s an amazing thing to do and, secondly, we are providing products and services to the sector for apprenticeships, so it’s important that we are seen as a role model to our members.
Thirdly, as an apprenticeship levy-paying organisation, we pay every month and if we don’t use that money it goes to the government, so there’s also a financial element to our choosing to take on apprentices now. The first step was to recruit our own apprentices, which we’ve done, and the next step is using the levy money to develop our existing staff.
James Clay and Rob Bristow, both senior co-design managers, and head of further education and skills, Paul McKean, are really keen to understand the experience of our apprentices so we can use that knowledge to develop our products and service in this area for our members.”
Meet our apprentices
Nicole Stewart, 18, started with Jisc on 2 October after taking A-levels in physics, maths and biology at college. Prior to that, she took a GCSE in ICT (information communications technology) and became more interested in computing during her second year of college.
Choosing a degree apprenticeship was a “no-brainer”, as she explains:
“You have university rammed down your throat as the only option after A-levels, then I heard about apprenticeship degrees in my first year of college.
You can get real experience rather than sitting in a classroom every day for three or four years, or come out of university with no experience in the working world. Taking an apprenticeship means I can get a degree and the experience at the same time and I won’t be getting into debt. It seemed like a no-brainer.
There isn’t much choice for my degree – there are only three companies that do it and two of them are very big companies where I knew I’d just be a number. When I researched Jisc I was really interested in the fact that it’s a hands-on not-for-profit and after I came here for an interview I was so much more interested than in any of the other options. It’s good here; each of my team can teach me different things and I’m learning an awful lot, which is what I wanted.”
James Hodgkinson, 22, has been with Jisc for just a month. He’s had no formal education in computing, but landed his placement with us having taught himself web developing skills. James said:
“After I left school I went to Weston College to do a BTEC in sports. After that I was a bit stuck on what I wanted to do as a career. I realised I wasn’t going to progress in that area and my father works in IT, so I taught myself web development. I volunteered to create a website for a friend of a friend’s shop, with no previous experience other than what I had taught myself.
This led to a contract with an insurance company making changes to their website. I was there three days a week, so for the other two days I was still practising and gaining more skills in that area. Then I heard about the Jisc apprenticeships on the college website, which was more focussed on software development than what I had been working on.”
James considered going to university, but would first have had to return to college to complete A-levels, which seemed rather long-winded.
“I thought a degree apprenticeship was a brilliant way to learn and earn money at the same time. I chose Jisc because I can work on a lot of different projects here. A lot of the other courses were just focused on one project for all four years. Here, I work on various projects, languages, methods and techniques and I thought that would benefit my career more in the long term.”