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A new pathway – how Stephanie’s apprenticeship is opening up a career in IT

Apprenticeship Week is taking place in Wales this week (February 7-13). To mark the week-long event, The Open University (OU) spoke to Stephanie Williams, a project manager in the second year of a Degree Apprenticeship to find out how it’s going, why she chose to study for the apprenticeship and what she hopes to achieve as a result.

Stephanie Williams has always been interested in IT so she jumped at the chance to take that interest further and gain a formal IT qualification through taking the Applied Software Engineering Degree Apprenticeship with The Open University in Wales (OU).

A senior project manager at Alcumus, a Cardiff-based organisation that provides software-led risk management solutions, Stephanie enjoyed IT at school, but the options for studying it were limited so she went down the humanities route instead.Since leaving education, she has worked in a variety of project support and project management roles over the years, and in each role, she has had a lot of exposure to IT.

This led her to realise two things: firstly, she would like to improve her understanding of IT and maybe move into a technical role, and secondly, that she would be a better project manager if she had more technical knowledge.

Now that Stephanie has completed the first year of the four-year, fully funded programme, she already has a much better knowledge base of IT. And she has discovered that she would definitely consider a career in IT in the future. “I would like to be more of a technical project manager, maybe something to do with security or the cloud. Right now, I’m getting the chance to test the waters, to see what I like and what I’m good at. And what I’m not so good at!”

Stephanie thinks there must be a lot of other people, male and female, in a similar position to where she was a couple of years ago – thinking about pursuing a career in an IT-related role, but not knowing if it would definitely be a good career move for them and not having sufficient finances to enable them to take a more junior role or to invest in the necessary training. “One of the great things about the course is that you get to explore different topics and it gives you a good grounding to know if it’s something you want to go into or not. It’s a really good option for people who want to change career” 

Many of the women Stephanie has met in the workplace during her career don’t have formal IT qualifications but have moved into IT roles or roles that require a level of technical understanding.

The first year of the Degree Apprenticeship is very much an introduction to IT. It gives the apprentices exposure to different elements of IT, such as security and infrastructure, the cloud and programming languages like Java. Stephanie says this ensures apprentices have a really good foundational understanding of these core skills.

In my job, I touch base with information security people, infrastructure people and software developers all the time, so being able to speak their language and know what they are talking about is really helpful for me.  It’s good to be able to talk their language in order to manage projects successfully. Even having just a basic knowledge helps to spark conversations. Stephanie Williams

As with any apprenticeship, students undertake a mix of on- and off-the-job training. Stephanie says there was a lot of reflective practice in the first year, encouraging her to look back on how she tackled issues in the past and how she could feed that learning into her current and future roles.

Stephanie says she is very grateful to have been given the opportunity to study while still earning, and to learn those foundational skills. The funding is made available by the Welsh Government through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Although it has been challenging at times - juggling work and study and home commitments - Stephanie said several things made it possible: her own commitment to learning, the support from her employers and her family, and the support provided by the OU. “The tutors are always responsive and always at hand to help and point you in the right direction if you’re stuck,” she says. “And the OU makes it easier by providing the weekly planner.”

And of course, a lot of the content and skills Stephanie is learning on the programme can be fed directly back into her day-to-day work, gradually increasing her skills as a project manager and her technical proficiency.

 

Find out more about the Applied Software Engineering Degree Apprenticeship, available from the OU in Wales.

Find out more about Apprenticeship Week 2022 in Wales

 

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