What does an apprentice look like in 2017?

17 November 2017 by Isla Lightfoot

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when understanding the potential of the new apprenticeship levy is having an accurate understanding of who can be an apprentice in 2017. If you are anything like I was until a couple of years ago, if you were asked to describe an apprentice it would probably look something like this:

That’s what an apprentice is, right? A young person doing a practical job while learning from someone older than them.

While this will often be the case, this is far from the whole story and the new reality is nicely illustrated by our most recent cohorts of Corndel software engineering apprentices.

Across these cohorts, you can broadly split them in to four groups: The Classic, The Graduate, the Upskiller, and The Career Changer.

The Classic

James closely fits the traditional view of an apprentice. He completed his A-Levels last year (Maths, Physics and Computer Science) but despite having a place at University lined up, did not want to go and be saddled with huge debt. Instead he wanted to immerse himself in practical, real-world experience and learn on the job.

“I first started to teach myself to code in year 7 or 8, using YouTube tutorials, Stack Overflow and Code Academy” says James. “The thought of going to University to study theory really did not appeal to me as it is the chance to actually make something and solve real problems that motivates me. That is why I chose to go down the apprenticeship route”.

The Graduate

Jack joined Softwire’s graduate programme in September this year after graduating from the University of Cambridge with a first-class degree in Mathematics.

Jack decided that he wanted to be a software engineer during the final year of his degree when he started using MATLAB as part of his course. “I found that I really enjoyed coding. I loved the problem-solving aspect and found the creative element very satisfying” says Jack.

“The fact I did not have a Computer Science degree meant that I would not have even got through the first stages of the application process for most software engineering graduate programmes. However, because Softwire recruit based on aptitude and potential and then train you on the job, it was the perfect opportunity for me to get in to the industry and start working on real projects almost immediately”.

The Upskiller

Peter works for Anthony Nolan, a charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders. He has been working there for 31 years, starting as a scientist before joining the IT team where he helped build and maintain a soon-to-be legacy system built using Visual Basic.

As Anthony Nolan embark on a four-year project to transform their entire donor registry, Corndel’s apprenticeship programme is the perfect opportunity to bring Peter’s skills up to date.

“Before starting the apprenticeship, I had never used C# before and I am completely new to object-oriented programming”, says Peter. “Doing this means that I will be able to continue to apply my extensive knowledge of the donor matching process to inform the modernisation of all of our systems. It also means that Antony Nolan will be able to retain skills and knowledge in-house and not be so reliant on expensive contractors.”

And how is Peter finding the experience so far? “It’s a real challenge! The learning curve feels steep but I’m enjoying myself and excited that I’m developing the skills to continue to add value to Antony Nolan for many years yet.”

The Career Changer

Before starting her apprenticeship, Sam was working in the Finance team at a large electrical trade retailer. This was a natural progression for her after graduating in 2012 with a degree in Maths and Finance.

While there were parts of the job she enjoyed, Sam wanted a bigger challenge and started to explore other options. Inspired by a friend, she completed some Code Academy courses and found she had a natural aptitude for coding and loved immersing herself in problem solving and making things. Sam now knew that she this was what she wanted to do as a career, the only problem was finding a realistic way to make this happen.

“Going back and studying full-time was not an option as I did not have the time or the money to do this”, explains Sam. “The chance to do an apprenticeship and earn and learn at the same time was the perfect option for someone in my position”.

Sam is already convinced she has made a great decision. “I’m really, really enjoying it. I’m already working on proper projects and just want to keep on learning and keep making new products so that I can become a senior developer in the not too distant future”.


At a time when there is a lack of software engineering skills in the UK, apprenticeship programmes provide a great way to tap in to a huge pool of high-potential talent that has previously been unable to access the industry.

An additional benefit is that this talent pool is much more diverse than your standard pool of computer science graduates or experienced software engineers.

So, apprenticeships don’t just solve the skills gap problem, they’re great for improving diversity too.

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