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Sector Experience

Recruitment Services

IBM | Trail-blazing Digital

by Jessica Sinclair

IBM is leading the charge of the creation of new apprenticeships in the digital space. With a focus on industry collaboration and bringing school leavers into the industry, IBM's apprenticeship programme has more than quadrupled since its inception in 2010. We spoke to Jez Brooks, an Early Professional Manager at IBM, about the importance of choosing the right training provider and providing a supportive environment for young learners to thrive.

What advice would you give an employer choosing an apprenticeship training provider?

Realistically, there’s no easy answer. You have to do the right thing for your organisation. Having said this, whilst you do have the option to be an employer provider and run the programme yourself, this is often difficult at degree level. I think when looking at a university (or a training provider) the key thing to remember is that they bring different things to the table: different flexibility in terms of delivery model (how often they need the students on campus; how much they can deliver remotely) and also flexibility in elements such as entry requirements.

The key outcome is a strong partnership that attracts – and retains – future talent in your organisation by providing a range of choices to school leavers. People learn in different ways; for some the opportunity to learn through doing in a work environment with a day at university per week suits them. Apprenticeships provide an alternative option to full time university degrees for school leavers.

And how do you keep up a strong relationship with that provider?

It has to be about a partnership. Pay attention to how you feel about them from the outset; if you trust them, that’s a great start. There is a massive onus on the training provider being open and honest and not just trying to win the business. They must be clear on what they will do and what the employer needs to step up to deliver on the work side of things, so there is nothing hidden with no surprises. Ultimately, do you feel that they are being honest and understanding what you need? If so, that relationship is absolutely critical for success.

What makes a successful programme?

Again, partnerships are essential, both with your training provider and your stakeholders. We have a central team that manages the programmes on behalf of the whole business. This works for us as it means we have a common approach and method - we don't end up with different experiences. The team help the business decide whether apprentices are the right solution for them. If they're not, they will have an honest discussion about what would work better - whether that's a graduate, intern or somebody else.

Apprentices are treated as employees. They aren't labelled as 'apprentices' and separated, rather they are full members of the team who just happen to be learning in tandem. Trust them and give them the responsibility to do the job they are being paid to do. This will help us move away from any stigma that may be attached to the word "apprenticeship". People learn by doing.

How have apprenticeships affected the industry?

We have come together as a tech industry. We don't compete with each other but instead, we go out with a central message to attract students to the industry. We show people that they can have a fantastic career as a digital apprentice - no matter where they work. This industry collaboration is also where smaller organisations could benefit from partnering and mentoring with bigger organisations who have this experience. We have apprentice ambassador networks across the country, and we could be doing even more of this within the industry. We need to use the apprentices as ambassadors and do more with them.

When it comes to apprenticeships, we are vey collaborative and open as an industry. And that isn't a concern for me at all. I think of the Richard Branson quote: "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to".

"They aren't labelled as 'apprentices' and separated but rather they are full members of the team who just happen to be learning in tandem. Trust them and give them the responsibility to do the job they are being paid to do."

What does IBM look for in an apprentice?

IBM looks for people who have an appetite for learning, passion for technology and determination to succeed.

Energy, creativity and passion are really important to us. We also work in teams all of the time, so applicants need to be able to thrive in that kind of environment. Someone who is a great communicator and who has the ability to lead others as needed will succeed.