"I FEEL MORE INSPIRED HERE THAN I EVER DID AT SCHOOL"
Aaron Thomas, 17, (right) heard his CGI apprenticeship advertised on Spotify - and hasn't looked back! He's been an apprentice at the multinational IT firm for just over a year. He has eight GCSEs, and Diplomas in Professional Competence for IT and Telecoms Professionals, ICT Systems and Principles, and ICT Professional competence, which he studied at The Hurst Community College. Aaron lives in Reading, Berkshire.
Tell us about your apprenticeship
"My current role is working within what’s called the financial integration team. When Logica and CGI combined, it was important that our systems did too. We now have a new ‘procurement’ (buying) system in place; pretty much an internal Amazon where products and services can be bought by our employees. This could be anything from a new mobile phone to some advertising space on an Edinburgh taxi.
"Much of my work is inputting supplier and customer data, making sure we get the best deals and that all transactions meet CGI’s supplier standards. It is straightforward in theory but it’s important to have a good work ethic, good organisational skills and the ability to work in a high pressure environment. My typical hours are 8am to 4.30pm as I can make a good start to work before the flood of emails start at 9am! Working for CGI allows flexibility in your work which is great."
What are the best bits about your apprenticeship?
"Getting industry qualifications is probably my biggest achievement. Doing that in a limited time period and not just being able to pass exams but being able to use that in practice is a big achievement. More generally, just getting my ‘foot in the door’ to get my career started has been great too. When you’re just starting out, it can be really hard to get any kind of momentum or direction going so I appreciate that too. In the current economic climate, being given a chance and working for one of the biggest companies in the industry makes me feel proud.
"Working within a good team and enjoying a good laugh as we work is also brilliant. I never thought I’d say this but I take great pleasure in having my work queue (or ‘to do’ list) being a manageable size. Another great thing is when you do a good job you usually get a “Thank you” and everyone enjoys good feedback. Once we were even given a bag of cakes to say thanks, which was great."
How did you find out about this apprenticeship?
"In the least likely way possible – on Spotify! The advert popped up one day advertising an IT apprenticeship and it kept playing over and over so I thought I will do some research in to it. I was thrilled with the prospect of receiving technical qualifications, getting paid and to be given a chance to get my foot in the door. I was weeks away from starting a college course but suddenly this seemed like a much better idea."
What qualifications do you need to get on a CGI apprenticeship?
"To gain a place on a CGI apprenticeship programme you need to have a minimum of five GCSEs at grade A* to C, including English and maths. The requirements are set to ensure we are all up to the academic rigour that the course involves - it can be pretty intense sometimes!"
Did you always want to do this kind of thing?
"No, I very nearly went to college instead. When I heard the advert on Spotify I was weeks away from starting college but always felt I was going there for all the wrong reasons, mainly because it seemed the easy option compared with going out and getting a job. That feeling was reinforced by my school too, which always pushed us to go to college. There never really seemed to be any options that suited me. When I heard the advert, all that changed. Suddenly the thought of going through college and then maybe university wasn’t quite so appealing, now I could see an alternative. Especially when at the same time I was hearing about all the graduates with brilliant degrees who can’t find a job when they leave uni. Trying something completely new with real prospects seemed like a better bet.
"The 'Eureka' moment was my first day in my apprenticeship. I had two weeks before college started so if I didn’t like the apprenticeship I had a back-up plan. I thoroughly enjoyed my first day and my instructor was very brilliant. I felt much more inspired than I ever had at school. That’s when I decided to formally decline the college place, something I’ve never regretted."
What subjects did you love at school?
"IT – even though I think it could have been taught much better than it was. In fact, it probably wasn’t the IT at school that's helped me get here, as most of the school curriculum was all about publications and following instructions. Instead, I 'self-discovered' a lot - most of my IT learning happened out of school, reading forums. I also loved breaking things – which I did on purpose so I could try and fix them!
"Given my interest in technology, I chose to work at a web developing company for my Year 10 work experience. That totally changed my perspective of working in the IT industry. Before that, I imagined working in IT meant sitting in a dark room in silence! I also loved PE at school, particularly football. Looking back, I think playing sport helped me develop my teamwork and leadership skills, which I use now at CGI."
What will happen at the end of your apprenticeship?
"I finish in August and will be one of the first Advanced Apprentices to gain a place on CGI’s sponsored degree programme! I will be working towards a BA(Hons) in IT and business management and an IT Higher Apprenticeship, going to uni one day a week and continuing to work four days a week. Doing this enables me to gain two globally recognised qualifications while continuing to build my career and network. It's great - I had no expectations when leaving secondary school and now can say I work for the fifth largest IT company in the world and still have a chance to do a degree."
What advice would you give someone who wants to a CGI apprenticeship?
"Be pro-active and put as much effort in as you possibly can. Don’t worry about making mistakes – we all make them – just keep a positive attitude and you will start seeing rewards. Once you’re on the apprenticeship, always be willing to lend a hand, whatever that means doing. No job is too small or too big. When you’re just starting out, it’s all about showing the right attitude. Putting the effort in will define how far you will go and it’s all down to you to determine that level of effort."