Sam Bigland, Test Analyst at ENSEK, shares his story of starting his career as an apprentice, the benefits he gained from this journey and where he is now.
Interviewed by John Brown, Head of Talent at ENSEK.
Sam: My year group at school was the first to get the price increase for university fees back in 2012; this didn't put me off the idea of going to uni, but it at least made me consider other options.
During the first year of sixth form, we were given the opportunity to complete a week's work experience, and I knew I wanted to work in the tech industry, so I did my placement at TBS, a mobile software company in Belper, Derbyshire.
Upon completion of my placement, the company indicated that they had been presented to by an apprenticeship training provider, and that they had interest in taking me on as an apprentice (which would be the first time they had taken this option).
I accepted an offer to join the company on the apprenticeship and started work with them upon completion of my second year of sixth form.
For me, this was an ideal scenario. I would be working in an industry I had been hoping to work in, and in a role I had been hoping to take on after completing a university course. However, I would instead be doing this straight out of sixth form, and without the need for any prior experience in the role.
Becoming an apprentice gave me a direct route into an industry I was hoping to enter and helped me do so much faster than I could reasonably have expected. I'm very grateful for that opportunity.
Sam: I actually started off in the company as first line support, taking calls and emails from customers, and raising and helping to resolve incidents.
For the company, the great thing about having an apprentice was how adaptable that would make me as a member of staff. I hadn’t joined with any expectations on the role I would be performing, as I had no prior experience of working in the industry.
So, when a member of staff left the testing team, I was asked whether I had any interest in moving into that position, which I did.
The experience I had gained in the support team meant that I had a better understanding of how the product worked, as well as what kind of issues I could look out for within the role of testing.
Working in multiple roles within the business helped me to become a more well-rounded employee in terms of product knowledge and experience, it allowed me to meet more people within the company (which helped me settle faster), and it helped me to become more valuable to the company as a result.
I would occasionally be drafted back into the support team as and when it was required, which was also a big help to the company.
Sam: Due to my experience in the support role where I regularly communicated with the customers, and the testing role which gave me lots of hands on experience with the product, the company saw it as a good fit to get me into the UAT and training elements of the software delivery process.
I would assist the customer in their testing of the software and report any issues back to development.
When the software had been signed off, I would take the product to the end users and train them in how to use it. I enjoyed this, because it meant that I got to work on a lot of different projects and visit various companies across multiple countries.
My best individual memory would be the first time I had to present some mobile software to around thirty members of staff at a company in London. I walked through how to make use of the mobile software while taking questions throughout the presentation.
I received positive feedback from the staff members, not only for the software solution that we had provided (which greatly improved upon the process that was in place at the time), but also for my training and the way I had engaged with the staff members who were taking on the software.
This was great for me, because I was just an apprentice at the company, and yet I was working within a role that realistically would have been beyond my reach otherwise. It helped me to realise the value that apprenticeships can have for the apprentices themselves.
Sam: Starting an apprenticeship, especially when straight out of school or college, can be an intimidating time.
You move from spending your week in a fairly relaxed learning environment, to being expected to combine both college and work-based learning elements with all of the intricacies that come with moving into a job for the first time.
Getting used to a full working week, learning how businesses work as well as what your role is, how to perform it, where you fit in the company and so on. It can be overwhelming.
Therefore, I think three pieces of advice I can provide as others begin their apprenticeship with ENSEK would be the following:
Get involved, you won’t regret it!
At ENSEK, we hire at all levels and career progression is important to us. Providing opportunities for our colleagues to move up in roles, up-skill, mentor, and people lead are all part of the journeys that we focus on. If you're interested in pursuing a new career, get in touch with our resources team.