FIT for purpose in an ever-changing tech world

For the ultimate earning while learning experience, tech apprentices join programmes of education and training which suit their areas of interest and let them work at the same time

19th September, 2020
FIT for purpose in an ever-changing tech world
Andrew Finn, tech apprenticeship registrar at FIT

Technology is everywhere these days and sometimes it seems as though we wouldn’t be able to function without it. So, in an ever-changing world, being up to speed is the best way to get ahead in an increasingly digital world.

A career in the tech industry is an appealing option for many people, but getting the right job might not be so easy. And this is where an apprenticeship comes in – as having the right skills needed for the job is one of the ways in which candidates may succeed.

FIT – Fastrack to Information Technology, the national co-ordinator for tech apprenticeships in Ireland, aims to make this happen by working in tandem with national education agencies, government departments and local development organisations to develop and promote technology-based programmes and career development opportunities for people who may need to upgrade their skills in order to advance in what is becoming an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

“We are an industry initiative supported by government to roll out tech-related apprenticeships,” Edel Hesnan, operations manager at FIT, said.

“The practical nature of an apprenticeship, which combines both class work and on-the-job experience, has made the programme a popular choice in recent years. It is an opportunity for people to get into the tech sector with a reputable company without having to necessarily go down the third-level route.

“The benefit of the dual education model is quite simple: earn as you learn.  Apprentices are sponsored by their company and paid while they complete the two-year programme and acquire a QQI Advanced Certificate, which is placed on the NFQ at level 6.

And since FIT became the National Co-ordinator for Tech Apprenticeship, we have added, and will continue to add, to our tech apprenticeship offering as we work with industry experts to identify skills gaps.

From our last skills audit, FIT identified three key areas which had a need for an apprenticeship offering: Software Development, Network Engineering and Cyber Security. These subsequently became our first three apprenticeship offerings.

“And along with the attainment of significant discipline-specific technical knowledge, apprentices also complete modules in effective communications in business, project management and both personal and professional development. These transversal skills are imperative in providing the apprentice with a grounding in the real work environment.

Dawn O’Brien, apprentice in Zurich

“So there are lots of opportunities and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about this to just go for it, as FIT believes in the future potential rather than past history of its apprentices.”

Dawn O’Brien can attest to that, as she was unsure about what career path to take after finishing school and having completed a PLC course in Computer Systems & Networks, she discovered that she really loved IT and decided to apply for an FIT apprenticeship.

“I was intrigued to learn that not only would apprentices be working in the IT sector, but were getting the qualifications also,” said the 20-year-old whose apprenticeship is with Zurich.

“The idea of learning and working in this sector appealed to me and I was fascinated to see what the programme entailed and also I was not keen on the idea of going straight into college. With the apprenticeship I felt that I would truly get a feeling of what it would be like to work as a network engineer.

“During the first six months, it was all class-based learning. I learned many skills, the biggest being communication, as this is very important when working in IT. One of the best things about the job is learning as you work, and I thoroughly enjoy working within Zurich. Getting to see how to manage the IT of an international company is incredible. It is an amazing experience, where many memories are made, many components are learned and overall it’s a life-changing experience that I am thrilled to be a part of.”

Dawn’s experience is mirrored by many other apprentices, but Edel Hesnan says the programme is also of huge benefit to employers.

“Feedback from many companies that have taken part is that apprentices come in and hit the ground running in month seven – and this is down to the practical skills they acquire in the classroom,” she said.

Andrew Finn, tech apprenticeship registrar at FIT, agrees and says employers benefit as apprenticeship onboarding provides a sustainable resourcing mechanism.

“I would describe it as a talent pipeline and one which provides individuals the opportunity to work for great employers,” he said. “This ensures tech employers can fill roles sustainably at an intermediate skills level, which is currently the burning issue in the sector.”

There are currently 220 ‘live’ apprentices and Finn says that number is growing as more and more people become interested in this career pathway. The next goal is 1,000 apprentices in training.

“This is not ambition or a target, but more so the mission of the tech apprenticeship team who eat, sleep and breathe Tech Apprenticeship,” he said. “FIT sees a future where 5,000+ apprentices could be engaged in a large tech apprenticeship portfolio which meets the needs of employers in the ever-changing tech world.”

Finn says the benefits of modern apprenticeships of a technical nature have been well engrained in other jurisdictions with all of the associated economic benefits that go with matching individuals to programmes of education and training which suit their areas of interest and learning style.

“Ireland is now catching up fast and this dual education model could be a premium programme option rather than a second choice,” he said.

“Apprenticeships across all sectors are becoming very popular of late and the programmes are very successful. We delivered, in partnership with ETBs, a pilot programme prior to the start of the statutory apprenticeship of 250 apprentices and over 90 per cent of those who took part were re-employed by the company they had been working for.

“We are now coming up to our first graduation and feedback has shown that performance is very good due to the fact that most of the candidates were motivated in the industry to start with and this drives a healthy performance in terms of achievement – so we have seen some great examples of outstanding performance.”

While many FIT apprentices have had a long-standing interest in technology, previous experience is not essential.

“There is no need for applicants to have studied the subject in school or have any formal IT training, as once they have an interest in technology and are motivated, that is the main thing,” said Finn. “And it’s not just for school leavers, it is open to all, whether someone has left school, is looking for a change of career or returning to work after an absence. There is a mixed cohort of people on the programme and we are doing our utmost to encourage strong female participation. Our mission is to break the glass ceiling which currently exists in the male-dominated tech environment.

“Candidates will also earn and learn so they are making money from the outset. This is another great thing as the salary will sustain the apprentice as they go along in their studies – and they receive pay from day one, whether they are training or working on the job.”

Finn says that the application process is very simple, and the first step can be taken by simply going online and filling out a basic form.

“The first step is to go online and indicate that you have an interest,” he said. “There is no closing date as our applications are ongoing. So once a candidate comes forward, we will bring them through our recruitment process, conduct an interview and work with them with regard to preparation before matching with employers.

“Our website is very clear in terms of requirements and it’s important that applicants treat the application in a professional way. I would also encourage would-be participants to do a little research so you can show your understanding of the sector and know that this is a career path you would like to pursue. For those who don’t succeed there is also a Pre-Tech Apprenticeship and taster option for those who would not meet the standard entry requirements.

“I come from a Craft trade background myself, so I wasn’t always in this career. And it dawned on me recently that many people walk past buildings of big companies and dream of maybe one day getting to work there – but apprentices get to do that right from the start, unlike college graduates who are desperately seeking employment and it may be a long road for them.

“So there is magic in the mix and I would encourage people to check it out and open themselves up to a variety of exciting opportunities.”

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