On February 6, BCS welcomed a room packed with members, influencers and young people at varying stages of their apprenticeship journey to launch the 'digital apprenticeship challenge 2020'. Johanna Hamilton AMBCS reports.

To celebrate the energy, ideas and initiative of our young apprentices, during apprenticeship week, the audience was challenged to “look beyond”, to create a future IT sector that is both more sustainable in its actions with a more diverse workforce to truly make IT good for society.

By apprentices, for apprentices

Hosting the event were Josh Uwadiae, CEO of WeGym.co.uk and Danielle Ariyo-Francis, Strategy Consultant at IBM. Josh grew up in East London and was expelled from school aged 15. Moving on from a less than promising start, Josh started college and despite family misgivings, dropped out to become an apprentice - he believes it was the best thing he ever did.

Armed with bags of personality, a belief in himself and a hunger to learn, Josh completed a digital apprenticeship and went on to co-found a successful online company. He now goes back to the school that expelled him to talk about the ‘limitless opportunity’ of apprenticeships. Something he’s unsurprisingly evangelical about.

Josh said: ‘When I did my IT systems and networking apprenticeship, people didn’t believe in the credibility of apprenticeships. When you say you’re going to university, no one questions it. It’s an investment - there’s an ROI. Regardless of the cost, people believe in the system. Eight years ago, people didn’t believe in the apprenticeship system because it just didn’t have the profile it does today.

‘There needs to be parity between the two systems. I believe apprenticeships are better, within certain fields, than going to university. For me, I knew university just wouldn’t suit me. I just didn’t buy it. When I think about how my career has evolved, taking an apprenticeship was the most influential decision I could have made; giving me confidence, the right skills and an understanding of the right pressures - without that I wouldn’t have started my own company.

‘Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to write your own story. When you begin an apprenticeship, your career has already started. You don’t have a three-year buffer of being a student, you’re in the game from day one. When you start an apprenticeship, your career has already started.’

Write your own story

Agreeing wholeheartedly with both the sentiment and the energy generated by the apprenticeship opportunity is Danielle Ariyo-Francis, strategy consultant at IBM. Despite her family encouraging her to become a doctor and Danielle securing a university place, she knew that her heart wasn’t in the decision and that she wanted to go into business.

Danielle said: ‘I think a degree apprenticeship is a really great way of combining working with learning - and applying that learning as well.

‘I did one year of work experience at IBM and decided to do a business management degree apprenticeship with them.’

Joining the IBM futures scheme, Danielle was working on key accounts from day one - and within six months, she was on a team bidding for a million-dollar contract. She was directing a team of designers and videographers and utilising social media, knowing she could add real value to IBM. Today she works in the iX unit to improve user experience.

‘I definitely chose IBM for the breadth of opportunities it could give me. Even within the two and a half years I’ve been there, I’ve worked in different areas of the business and with different clients. It’s great that there are different types of qualifications and that companies recognise that there’s more to it than just having a degree.

‘I had a place at university and I was going to go... but [the apprenticeship] was a no-brainer for me. To come out chartered, with a degree and three years’ experience from a top consultancy firm with no student debt. I mean, why wouldn’t you?’

Danielle believes the best thing about apprenticeships is the full-on challenge, because ‘if you don’t challenge yourself, you’re never going to learn and grow’.

Learn, grow, code, repeat

The keynote speaker, Matt Haworth joined the session through the power of video. At 19, he decided not to go to university and decided to start his own technical consultancy, Reason Digital, designed to make life better.

Fascinated with the transformative opportunity for IT to be used for good, his company has delivered projects and training for Age UK and Alzheimer's Research UK, as well as processing donations for Children in Need for the BBC. He’s co-founder of Gone for Good, a donation fundraising app that’s helped to raise over £1m for charity, as well as Impact Reporting, used by Lloyds Bank and other institutions to measure social impact

A firm advocate of developing talent through apprenticeships, with his own company employing three, he was speaking primarily about the opportunity offered by the apprenticeship challenge: ‘Submit a new idea to the challenge today. Think about inclusion, diversity and sustainability. Bring your own life experience to bear in your challenge submission. Think about the end users. Think about the idea. Don’t make it too complicated. While new innovations are coming along all the time, such as VR, AI, Blockchain, think about using the older tech. Remember; innovation isn’t necessarily about new tech, it’s about new ideas.’

Open your mind to opportunity and possibility

Following the keynote speaker was the activity part of the day, starting with an active workshop and idea sharing session from Yola O’Hara of Visually Explained. Inviting the audience to share their experiences of using tech to promote themselves or their businesses, she talked about “how?”. How do you stand out in a crowded marketplace? How can you improve your personal brand?

Inspiring the audience to submit ideas to the challenge, economics graduate Yola said: ‘Create your reputation and how the world sees you. Think about what you are trying to achieve. Become a thought leader. Be yourself. Being authentic makes you more visible and more credible.

‘Think about the media and where best to put your message. Make it more exciting. As businesses, we need to be on all the platforms: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. Don’t ignore TikTok. Use it for inspiration. Be present, be inspired and then think about who can endorse you. Start with your friends, family, college, university, managers, mentors, BCS and social media audiences. They can all endorse your apprenticeship challenge.’

Are we truly ethical?

Speaking on behalf of BCS, Bill Mitchell OBE questioned what it means to be ethical in both a personal and professional sense. Why is it important to be ethical within your role? Who can you trust? Bill said: ‘We are relying on tech to solve the big problems, but what about the other side of tech? The data breaches? The criminal actions? What are the unintended consequences of creating a system?’

Bill went on to talk about the metropolitan police using a facial recognition software system, which, on page 57 of the user manual, says it is only accurate 50% of the time. How many people are making decisions based on a system, whose user manual they quite possibly haven’t read? He also quoted a survey of 6,500 children aged 7-18 that stated 40% of those asked didn’t trust social media companies. His question was, ‘whose job is it to make sure we’re ethical? And how can you avoid unconscious bias?’

The only way is to scrutinise how we work, to make sure we are producing work others can trust and that we do so in groups that are representative of society - with greater diversity.

A whole new world

Also setting challenges was the VR hub, where delegates could experience a whole new 3D world, painting and creating a personal virtual dome of colour and shapes that was truly unique. Creating a space where learners and mentors can share ideas and explore what’s possible - not just today but in the future - is very much the remit of BCS.

Making life better with better ideas

BCS is tapping into the energy and ideas of apprentices to make life better with our apprenticeship challenge. Inviting ideas to create tech for good, tech for pushing the boundaries of inclusion and making everyone more accountable for actions within our industry; the challenge is an exciting opportunity to not only change society but to enjoy personal development.

The apprenticeship challenge prizes

Thanks to sponsors GK apprenticeships, Firebrand and Palatine, the winning idea for the apprenticeship challenge will receive a cash prize of £500, plus a course of mentoring from a member of the BCS community. There will also be a £300 prize for a highly commended idea and an additional three £150 prizes for commended entries. All shortlisted entrants will receive free entry to the BCS award-winning event, Insights 2020, where the challenge winners will be announced. Apprentices will also see the power of how open dialogue and innovative thinking is changing the tech sector for good.

Apprenticeships in action

Talking about how to get involved, Luke Kuczynski AMBCS, former apprentice and now Digital Executive at BCS, said: ‘apprenticeships are really important to me, having done a digital marketing apprenticeship, I’ve really seen the value. I didn’t have the experience to get into the industry, but having an apprenticeship has helped me build my career. I think I’m lucky that BCS has given me the space to enhance my career, doing as much as I want towards my personal development. If I want to study for a degree level apprenticeship in the future, then the option is there.’

Luke, who also helped to shape the challenge and organise the launch event encouraged apprentices to have a go, enter their sustainable ideas and be in with a chance of winning a great prize.

The apprenticeship challenge ahead

Summing up role of apprenticeships and the challenge ahead for BCS and its training partners, was head of policy, Dr Bill Mitchell OBE.

Bill said: ‘At BCS what’s really important is making sure that we have a confident and ethical pipeline of highly talented people in the IT profession. Getting an apprenticeship is one of the best ways to progress in a work environment where you can develop those skills, competencies and ethical practices that are essential for a rewarding and professional career.

‘As The Chartered Institute for IT, we are impartial, authoritative, objective and we’re driving standards so that individuals have the right skills; not only for today but for future challenges as well. Then we really can be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, which is already upon us.’

Apprenticeship Challenge

Find out more about the Apprenticeship Challenge

The closing date for entries is Friday 17 April 2020.