The Open University’s Apprenticeships Ambassador, Laura Burley, recently checked in with 23-year-old Robson Grant, a final year Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprentice at Milton Keynes University Hospital.
Robson has been awarded the 2021 Tech Industry Gold Merit Award, nominated by Mo Telford, his Open University (OU) Practice Tutor in recognition of his achievements as an apprentice at the Hospital. This follows his Milton Keynes University Hospital ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award in 2018. Since then, as well as undertaking his degree and delivering some incredible projects for his employer – such as creating a tool that allowed people to visit their loved ones in hospital during the pandemic – Robson has been a key advocate of degree apprenticeships. He has met with Chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon MP to talk about his experiences, as well as shared his story with officials with the Department of Education and (now former) Minister for Universities and Science, Chris Skidmore MP. He also featured in the Universities UK report The Future of Degree Apprenticeships.
Lovely to see you again Robson! The last time we saw each other was actually one of the last times I was in the office pre-pandemic when Robert Halfon MP (former Skills Minister and Chair of the Education Select Committee) came to visit the OU campus in Spring 2020. Are you back in the office yet?
Yes – I am heading in a few days a week now which is nice. Although I am really noticing the commute!
You’re nearing the end of your apprenticeship now. How has your experience compared to your friends and peers who went to University? Would you recommend for people to consider a degree apprenticeship?
I would definitely recommend for other people to consider undertaking a degree apprenticeship and I am very happy with what I have chosen to do. You’re getting a degree, money and experience! Work experience and practical learning on the job is worth so much more than people realise.
A lot of my friends went off to university, but I am so pleased that I have taken this path and am earning and learning.
What’s been your best experience of your degree apprenticeship?
At Milton Keynes University Hospital I strive to provide people with better healthcare using the latest technology while creating a frictionless experience for all hospital staff using our systems.
I’ve had a few good experiences so far. I was pretty proud when I had to create systems to help NHS support staff to move online overnight when everyone had to go to home working during the pandemic. It wasn’t great timing as there had recently been some changes to the team and so I was the only senior person who could deliver it.
I was also proud to receive the 2018 Apprentice of the Year award at the Hospital.
During the pandemic, I also created a tool that allows people to book a slot for visiting their loved ones safely to manage visitor numbers and track who is visiting etc. This has been a great success with almost 7,000 visits in just a couple of months. I feel really proud that I am making a massive difference across the whole hospital – every single ward uses it, including the Intensive Care Unit.
To see the things I have created improve lives is one of my greatest achievements and I cannot wait to create more applications to help more people.
All of this is possible because of the opportunities and support that I have received from the OU and the NHS. The NHS has helped my family in so many ways, so to give back and provide others with help like me is extremely rewarding. This is more than just a regular job - it is a pleasure.
What has been your most challenging experience of your degree so far?
Soon after I got promoted, unfortunately there happened to also be some staff turnover in the team – this therefore meant that I had a lot of responsibility. We then had a huge server failure for the website and I had to fix it, de-bug it and troubleshoot it myself. It was very stressful. I had to step up and there was a lot of pressure – but I used the experience from my degree to help resolve it. Looking back, it’s one of the first things I had to do to really prove myself.
Wow! That’s full on. You’re clearly doing a very high level and busy job… how do you juggle your work responsibilities with the required 20% off-the-job time for your apprenticeship?
I have agreed with my employer that I have Friday off as a study day and it’s really useful to have a set day off to do my uni work – it’s protected time which helps me to manage my time. I have to say, it’s not that difficult though, so as long as you manage your time well. I plan about a month in advance what I am going to do.
What has your employer done to help with your degree apprenticeship that you particularly appreciate?
My employer is very flexible when it comes to me and my degree – they want me to do well. For example, if I have an exam, they are flexible and they might work with me to move my study day so I can revise. They take away the stress of trying to juggle it all and manage it flexibly.
I also really appreciate that Milton Keynes University Hospital has given me so many opportunities to apply my learning from The Open University across the hospital. I am learning so many varied software programmes from my studies at the OU, but then my job is also so diverse, it’s great!
What has the OU done to help with your degree apprenticeship that you particularly appreciate?
I really appreciate the OU’s constant contact. Throughout the whole of the four years, if I have got into any trouble at all, I call them, text them or email them and I get a reply the same day. They take the stress away completely. My first year in particular was quite stressful as it was a new experience and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I called my practice tutor, Mo Telford, and Mo picked up straight away. It’s really nice to know that if something goes wrong, the OU will help resolve it. They will talk to you and guide you - they are there to support you and go above and beyond!
You’re coming to the end of the apprenticeship, what are your future career plans?
I’ve been thinking about this for the past four years to be honest!
There are a few things that are going through my mind.. possibly a Master’s but I’d definitely want to wait a bit to have some time to myself first.
I also want to rise through the ranks and strive to become a senior developer. I want to manage my own development team where you undertake sprints and plan out the next two weeks of work.
The main thing for me though is I want to be happy with what I am doing, and I am glad that I am in a position where I feel I can do what I want to do. This apprenticeship has turbo-charged my career and opened up so many different options for me. I don’t just want to stay stagnant… I want to get better.
What advice would you give someone considering a degree apprenticeship?
Don’t worry - study for a degree and working isn’t going to consume your whole life.. you will see your friends! In fact, I get to see my friends all the time and I still do my work and apprenticeship – I think I have a great balance, even though it can be stressful at times. Time management is an important part of this, and you really need to work to nail it down. I’ve really learnt this over the course of the degree apprenticeship.
I would also say that don’t be afraid to ask for help – the OU will help you.
It’s incredible. You’ve achieved so much already! I know we’ve spoken a few times in the past couple of years when you’ve met various politicians and other apprentices and every time I am struck by the examples you share of the work you’re doing and delivering for your employer. You should be really proud of yourself. It’s a great example of an employer working with you to give you key projects and getting stuck in.
Yes, I agree. It’s amazing they trust me to do all this stuff. I’m so pleased! I get to apply my learning to the benefit of the NHS and the patients.. and I am coming out of it with a degree and four years’ worth of work experience.
Wow. Thanks ever so much for taking the time to chat to me. You should be really proud of what you’ve achieved these past few years and congratulations for your Tech Industry Gold Certificate of Merit.
Thank you. Sometimes you think ‘this is madness that I’ve been put forward for another award’ - I’ve just been doing my work! You don’t even think about it when you are head-down doing your work and sometimes you don’t always realise what you’re doing and achieving, so I’m really pleased to receive this award and recognise what I’ve achieved.