Matthew Dickinson: Life as an Apprentice in Technology and Telecoms
Hi Matthew, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with the Apprentice Store?
I left school in 2015 with no qualifications, after speaking with youth workers and careers advisors I contacted a charity called the Shirlie Project who support people into employment. I was there for just under a year and did 3 work experience placements. One was with NHS’ IT department, this is when I knew that the IT sector was where I wanted to work.
Nell, a job coach at the Shirlie Project met David Massey (Managing Director of The Apprentice Store) at a careers fair at one of our local schools. Nell put me in touch with David and we organised another work experience placement, little did I know that it would be my last. After a few weeks David sent me a formal job offer and I was employed by The Apprentice Store as a Cloud Support Apprentice.
How does the apprentice scheme work? Do you get paid? Do you work only with Apprentice Store or do you go out to other companies?
The apprenticeship scheme I work under is named the “Diploma for Information Technology and Telecommunications Professionals”. David offers this a 2 year apprenticeship allowing me to achieve both the SCQF Level 6 and 8 Qualifications, equivalent to a HNC and HND respectively.
The apprenticeship scheme is run through a training provider, mine is called QA. They assign you an assessor and they will come and visit your office every 6-8 weeks. You view the units available in the scheme and then they let you choose which you would like to do and assess any that you have completed in the meantime. QA also offers the opportunity to go on training courses. I went through to Glasgow twice, first for 1 week to learn all about Cyber Security and then again for 2 weeks to learn about the Windows operating system. It was strange to be staying away alone but I got used to it after a few days and ended up having a really good time.
I do get paid a very generous wage and this increments every 6 months to act as an incentive. After 2 years I will have finished my apprenticeship and will get a change of job title. I’ll then get to teach and supervise any new apprentices acting as a mentor, giving them the opportunity that I’ve had.
David gives me the opportunity to work with our clients and now, 8 months in, I am even in the position where I am managing them and act as their main point of contact! We went down to Oban to visit one of them yesterday, getting out of the office and going on site visits is one of my favourite aspects of the job.
Do you go to college as well - if so how does that work? How do you find the combination of work and study? What sort of subjects do you study?
I don’t go to college, David and my QA assessor, Russell, help me align the work I do to meet the specified criteria of the units. I will need to study some parts but again, David is very accommodating and allows me time to do this in work.
I’ll still study at home, trying to stay one step ahead. When a problem occurs, I want to know the solution rather than delaying the response by having to research it. Right now, I’m studying networking, specifically TCP/ IP so I can understand and troubleshoot any internet related issues better. We sell and manage anti-virus software to our customers called Webroot so I’m also studying to get their sales and technical certification.
As an apprentice, I assume you’re just starting out. Are things as you expected? What do you like best ..... and what do you find the worst aspect of being an apprentice?
The best thing? Simply the fact that I’m “earning and learning”, not only do I get to do a job I enjoy, I get to learn at the same time. So not only does this help The Apprentice Store and our customers, but it also helps me develop my career.
I don’t think I ever really knew what to expect, I was surprised that I got the job! I definitely didn’t think I would have this much involvement with clients and have my level 6 qualification signed off 8 months in!
The worst part is not knowing the answer to the customers problem, I’ve still got lots and lots to learn and some things will completely baffle me. This isn’t so bad though, as I gain more experience and do more study its less likely to occur.
You are just starting out on your career - any idea where you would like to be in 10 years’ time?
10 years ago I was seven and wanted to be a fireman which I’m miles away from now! Its hard to say what the future holds but I imagine I’ll still be working in the IT sector and will have some industry standard qualifications behind my name. David still works as an IT consultant and although it’s a difficult job, I can quite easily see myself doing a similar role in the future.
Any insights into technology?
I do a lot of work around Office 365. It’s a set of subscription plans that Microsoft offer each including a variety of services. Many businesses will buy this simply for a copy of Microsoft Office and not realise the amount of technology they have access to behind that or what its capable of. If implemented correctly you can save yourself a lot of time and even money. I’d say that if you do have access to Office 365 take some time to have a play around or watch some online courses, you’d be surprised at what it can do.
What inspires you?
I don’t think there is one particular thing that inspires me. I mainly work from feedback, if negative, I always want to amend anything that I have done wrong. If positive, I strive to maintain and improve the work that I’m doing.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about providing a high level of customer service and work. I know I was lucky to get this opportunity so there is a real incentive to give back to the company that invested in me.
Any words of advice for anyone thinking about becoming an apprentice
When applying for the job, study the job description and research the topics that you think you’ll be involved in. I reckon that its likely for this to come up in the interview and knowing a little will show a lot. If you do become an apprentice, recognise the opportunity that’s there. A piece of advice I’ve been given is “The more you get in, the more you get out” and its one of the very few that have remained true. The more time you commit to learning and developing yourself outside of work, the more you will achieve.
What advice would you give to an older you?
I imagine an older me might’ve forgotten what it feels like to be my age. I would tell myself to think back to what it was like when I was first starting my job here. How nervous I was on my first day, how worried I was that I was going to squander the huge opportunity I was presented with, the fact that I didn’t know much of anything and didn’t have the confidence to ask questions and to ask for help.
I would want myself to keep all of this in mind and try to manage it in the same way David did for me.
Small discussions about job performance, allowing the time for learning and prompting for questions to be asked can all make a huge difference.
Why do you think employers should employ more young people?
I think there’s a lot of young people out there struggling with attaining employment for various reasons. Mine being the lack of qualifications. These young people just need a chance and, with time, they’ll be grateful for it. You’ll gain yourself a member of staff committed to your company and with a drive to improve.
Matthew Dickinson's Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-dickinson-6408a6143/
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"Matthew Dickinson: Life as an Apprentice in Technology and Telecoms" First published on Company Connecting November 2017