Apprenticeship Levy, Case studies, Software

Corndel’s Software Engineering Apprenticeship for Sixth-Form Leavers – a huge success for Softwire

12 September 2019 by Isla Lightfoot

Having previously recruited graduate Software Engineers, mainly from Oxbridge, in 2018 Softwire decided to widen their talent pool and offer Software Engineering Apprenticeships to a group of sixth form leavers. ‘There is a huge amount of talent, particularly within Engineering, that doesn’t choose the traditional A‑level, University route and we identified that we were potentially missing out on this. However, employing someone who is fresh out of sixth form does require a different level of support. Our graduates have benefitted from the Software Engineering programme and because of the intensive and varied work-based nature of the curriculum, we knew it could support less-experienced entrants.’ Gareth Johnson, Head of Training and Apprenticeships at Softwire, explained.

One year on, we spoke to some of the Apprentices on the Corndel Software Engineering programme. The training starts with a 12-week bootcamp and from day one Software Engineering Apprentices start writing code. Jess Gilbert left college with A‑Levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, she had very little computing experience other than an interest in developing code that would have a positive impact on people’s lives. ‘Don’t be put off by a lack of knowledge to start with. Our coaches provided me with all the support that I needed. Once you start you learn very quickly. During the first few weeks of Bootcamp we learnt about front-end, back-end, system applications and databases. It’s intense but achievable.’

Taiwo Olateju left college having studied Maths, Computer Science and Graphic Design. He was given a place at University of Nottingham to study Masters in Science, but after the law changed and the Apprenticeship Levy launched, he decided to look at the Apprenticeship option: ‘I saw that companies like Google and Facebook were suddenly offering technical apprenticeships, thanks to the launch of the Levy. I wanted some real-world experience, developing software on live projects. University doesn’t offer this.’. Taiwo describes his decision to go down the Apprenticeship route as ‘the best decision I have ever made. I get to work on projects that have an impact. My first project was a website for Soda. To deliver something tangible, so early on in my career was hugely rewarding. There was no way I would have been able to do that after three years at University, but 13 weeks into the Software Engineering programme, I had enough skills to produce this. Since then I have supported a graphing tool, worked on back-end databases for large companies and provided a range of support across projects like Raspberry Pi. I’ve applied almost everything I’ve learnt on the programme.’

One month into the Software Engineering programme, groups work together on a mock project. Tom Johnson studied Maths, Physics and Computer Science at college. He didn’t want to continue his educational studies in a traditional university, so looked at the Apprenticeship option. ‘I was keen to find a company who was offering an Apprenticeship programme that they were passionate about delivering. Some companies I spoke to were offering ‘tick box courses’. I liked the practical nature of this course, initiatives like the mock project, where we worked as a team to create a website that predicted the odds for football games. This gave us a fantastic insight into working in a project team. At the end of the 13-week Bootcamp we joined project or support teams within Softwire, so this mock project was essential for that transition. ‘

I wouldn’t change a thing about this programme. It has equipped me to work on projects that make a difference. I’ve been trained by experts in their field and I get to apply my learnings. For the past year I’ve been working with Anthony Nolan, helping to create a service that receives and responds to information globally. I’ve applied all the back-end skills I’ve acquired from the programme.’

In addition to Software Engineering skills, the programme focuses on developing core skills like stakeholder management, working together in teams and presenting projects. Aaron Gibbison completed a B‑tech in Computing and A‑level in Maths at college. He was attracted to the Software Engineering Apprenticeship programme at Softwire because of the variety within the curriculum and the opportunity to learn from experts. ‘I had a basic background in computing, so I wanted to develop these skills alongside the practical skills that you need to work in a business environment, like interpreting client briefs, different roles within a project and how teams work together to deliver. The programme has been an amazing opportunity. It has facilitated my ability to work on a project for a machine-learning startup focusing on API end points, creating an algorithm that can send information to the football association and a database design and specification for a large international charting service.’

Gareth Johnson shares his experience of employing sixth-form leavers as Software Engineers: ‘This has been a very successful group of learners and we will definitely employ more sixth-form leaver Apprentices. It’s really important to select people who have the potential to be great Software Engineers, with an enthusiasm for learning, rather than focusing too much on what they can do now. We’ve seen time and time again that the Corndel Software Engineering programme transforms people in a very short space of time, equipping them with the right skills to make a difference on Engineering projects for our clients.’

The Apprentices continue their training for another year, pulling together portfolios of work, supported by one-to-one coaching. 20% of the Apprentices working week is allocated to studying, but because the nature of the course is practical and intensively focused at the start to get Software Engineers up and running, the Apprentices have spent the past nine months making a real difference in the world of Software Engineering. All aspire to continue down the Software Engineering career pathway.

Find out more about the Corndel Software Engineering Academy.

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