Promoting from within: Leidos UK’s AiB partnership propels graduate apprentices
The pace of technological change today is so fast that businesses struggle to keep up — and do professionals too.
Letting students earn their degree while working on real IT solutions adds new tech talent to the workforce while ensuring that their skills are up to date.
Leidos has partnered with Scottish universities such as the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow to develop work-based learning degree programmes, known as Graduate Apprenticeships, in tech fields like software development and cybersecurity.
Early signs of promise
A large contingent of these early career participants work with Leidos in its partnership with Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) in Scotland, which is engaged in a five-year programme to modernise its systems for handling debt online.
AiB's IT modernisation strategy is a comprehensive ambition to meet societal needs by making insolvency processes simpler and more efficient.
“We've been working with AiB since 2007," explained Colin Jack, software development team lead at Leidos. “In that time, we've built a number of case management systems, statutory registers and public facing websites, which are used by Scottish government staff and external stakeholders, such as money advisers, insolvency practitioners, and creditors to process debt relief and debt management for the people of Scotland.”
“Now, 99% of their cases are applied for online instead of on paper. This helps them to be more efficient and makes their products easier to access for the public, and easier to manage for them and for their outside partners, such as debt advisors and creditors.”
“There are 18 people involved in the team and all but three joined as either a graduate or apprentice — including me. There's been a heavy focus on internal growth and training each other and learning from each other."
“The system that we're developing at the moment is the Debt Arrangement Scheme for when someone is in financial difficulty. They can go online and input details of their income and expenditure each month which is submitted to their creditors along with an offer of a reduced payment — this helps them repay their debts while avoiding insolvency," says Jack.
A fruitful collaboration
Lewis Stevenson started in a modern apprenticeship programme with Leidos, but switched into Strathclyde's graduate software development scheme when it launched this year.
“Leidos seemed like a really professional company with a good atmosphere. I wanted to work on customer projects with real professionals. I felt that would help my career significantly — and it has because it's taught me a lot more than college alone," he says.
Stevenson has built up invaluable experience while working with AiB, not just directly for his degree, but also in growing the skills needed for any job.
“The AiB projects are fantastic. We have a close relationship with the customer, they like the products we're putting out and we work together well. You obviously need technical skills and programming, but there are also the skills of working in teams and making presentations and understanding the terminology and practices that can't really be taught in a classroom," he says.
For AiB, what the apprentices may lack in experience, they more than make up for in energy and enthusiasm.
“The apprentices' contribution to AiB's modernisation strategy has been invaluable," says Brian Kennedy, Head of Efficiencies & Technology. “We're building a team from the ground up, with people who know our systems and are hugely invested in our projects."
“The team is really engaged and passionate about their work," says Jack. “They're always asking questions and we're all learning from each other. When a junior asks a question, it makes me really think about the way we do things.”
“And all the apprentices come from different backgrounds — some come from school, some come from college, some from changing careers," he adds.
The apprentices are keen to continue their work with Leidos and AiB.
“I don't have any intention of moving away from Leidos," says Stevenson. “Leidos has a relaxed atmosphere and the support you need to succeed on the scheme. Even before you've finished the apprenticeship, you're not just seen as an apprentice, you are given new opportunities and responsibilities."
Leidos and AiB get an engaged and energised workforce that may well stick around for years to come. And the universities have the opportunity to feed back into the structure of their courses.
“If the apprentice wants to work on a project that we and the university are interested in, we can work on it together. For example, one of our apprentices recently made a mobile app to recognise sign language as part of his university project and that was of interest to us and to the university," says Jack.
Meanwhile, the Graduate Apprentices get to complete their studies with four years of highly valuable work experience and no student debt, a compelling outcome for anyone hoping to pursue a career in IT.
“Most of the people I've spoken to who went to university and are now working at Leidos say they wish they'd done the graduate scheme," says Stevenson.