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IBM wanted to make the most out of the apprenticeship levy and chose The Open University to deliver three of its degree apprenticeship programmes to upskill employees. The Open University’s support, flexibility and innovative learning model means the apprenticeship programmes are ideal for employees fitting study around their day-to-day roles.

IBM has evolved from a small business to a globally integrated enterprise with more than 400,000 employees. As an apprenticeship levy-paying employer, it set up a strategic partnership with The Open University. Flexible learning is crucial to IBM with employees based in different locations, alongside a need to balance the benefits of apprenticeships with the requirements of the business.

Elizabeth Hanway, Senior Corporate Development Manager at The Open University said: “We have been working with IBM for a number of years on digital and management programmes, so degree apprenticeships are the next step.

“My role was to help IBM look at its skills strategy – particularly at the digital arena, but also leadership and management skills development.”

Paul Milner, IBM and Elizabeth Hanway, The Open University

IBM's Paul Milner talking with Elizabeth Hanway of The Open University

Image: Filmkey Productions Limited

We found some universities were quite rigid in how they deliver their business. That becomes problematic in the long run. We find The Open University incredibly easy to work with. One of its real strengths is flexibility.

Paul Milner, Senior Early Professionals Manager, IBM

Three IBM employees are currently on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship programme, with a further two starting in May. Six employees have begun the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship with two more starting in May, and four employees are on the Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship.

Lee Webb, Talent Acquisition Partner in IBM UK Human Resources is enjoying the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship so far. He explained: “I just do not have the credibility, or the experience at a management level, so when I was approached about an apprenticeship I thought this would be a very good opportunity.

“The delivery model is unique compared to the normal academic learning format. It’s flexible, it’s adaptable and you learn at your own pace.

“The tutors give you great guidance, so it’s a completely different concept to in-the-classroom learning. I’ve seen immediate benefits and I’m looking at work scenarios and day-to-day activities from a different perspective.”

Security Bid Excellence Consultant, Laurie Gibbett said of the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship: “The apprenticeship will give me the knowledge and credibility to move forward into my next role and ensure I have a better understanding of the organisation's business functions.

“The Open University is a good fit with IBM. A lot of us are in flexible roles where we work from home, or work in different locations.”

In addition to the management and leadership apprenticeships, IBM also had a requirement to use the levy to develop technical skills within the business. The Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship was the ideal fit to upskill IBM employees to work towards a degree and bring new digital skills into the workplace.

Paul Milner, IBM and Thomas Robinson-Williams, IBM

IBM's Paul Milner talking with OU apprentice, Thomas Robinson-Williams from IBM

Image: Filmkey Productions Limited

I joined IBM straight from school at 18 and have worked for the company for eight years. The apprenticeship will give me crucial industry skills and knowledge to help me develop my career. My graduation will be a special moment and gaining a degree will give me a real sense of achievement.

Thomas Robinson-Williams, IT Architect, IBM and an apprentice on the Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship programme

In summary, Paul Milner said: “The Open University has got a proven track record in delivering skills and knowledge to a business environment. We see a kindred spirit in how it uses technology.

"The most heartening thing about this programme is to see the benefit it has on people – particularly those who didn’t think they’d go to university and get a degree. That’s life-changing.”

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