Microsoft first approached QA in late 2009, looking to build Microsoft certified apprenticeship programmes that would benefit its partner and customer network. It was looking for a partner that could provide a full-service apprenticeship solution, from recruitment to placement and training.

Today, over 15,000 apprentices across 11 centres in England and Scotland have now passed through the QA and Microsoft certified apprenticeship programmes, receiving MTA and MCP qualifications. With 94% of apprentices staying with the partner company they started with, the benefits to the Microsoft partner ecosystem are long-term.

Reflecting on 10 years

It’s an interesting time to reflect on this milestone. Ten years ago, the UK economy was in the middle of an economic downturn, much like the one it finds itself in today. The Great Recession of 2008/9 knocked the UK’s GDP and, by 2011, local unemployment reached 8.4% and 2.7 million people were left looking for work.

As companies paused to re-evaluate their operations and workforces, Microsoft and QA opted to invest in the future. They started by developing the Level 3 Systems and Networking Apprenticeship Programme with Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications, which targeted young school-leavers looking to start their career.

Initially, the programme and roles were focussed on tech support – with apprentices mostly assigned to entry-level support-based roles.

A growing demand for tech talent

As technology evolved over the years, however, and digital transformation became a business priority, the demand for tech skills increased. More businesses were adopting cloud-based systems and looking for specialist skills including cloud engineering.

Apprenticeship schemes were evolving too. In 2015, the UK Government introduced Degree Apprenticeships. This began to attract a range of new high-calibre participants and made it possible for schemes to include more senior job roles.

To create the technologists of the future, Microsoft and QA kept evolving their apprenticeship programmes to be in line with new tech developments and client requirements. Moving away from solely support-based roles, the programmes expanded to industry-defined Apprenticeship Standards to train apprentices in roles including cloud architecture and software development.

Building a pyramid of talent

The QA and Microsoft apprenticeship programmes continued to grow from strength to strength. Five years into the partnership, Microsoft began taking on apprentices itself, making the programmes a strategic part of its recruitment offering. And in 2016, QA won Microsoft’s YouthSpark Citizenship Partner of the Year Award, in recognition of placing 6,000 young Microsoft certified IT Apprentices into work.

Now, 10 years since the programmes were introduced, QA has recruited, placed, and trained over 15,000 apprentices across the UK within Microsoft’s ecosystem. For each partner and customer who has taken on an apprentice, the biggest benefit has been the ability to introduce and mature much-needed technical skills and build a diverse workforce.

Pauline Brown, Business Relationship Manager of IT services at the University of St Andrews, says:

"The impact of the apprenticeships scheme has been huge for us,. We put our IT apprentices on the front line and they just got stuck in – they're so tech-savvy."

This ability to confidently put apprentices on the front line comes from the programme’s structure. QA’s training focuses on developing a combination of in-demand technical ability and softer character-building skills. Apprentices benefit from instructor-led training, as well as unlimited access to QA’s Cloud Academy platform, which hosts a bespoke learning path and enables them to develop their skills in the Microsoft Azure cloud. At the same time, working directly with mentors and managers in real-world work environments helps them to develop workplace etiquette and business skills including collaboration and problem-solving.

It’s this combination that makes apprentices an immediate asset to their hosts – and is the reason why 94% of apprentices are retained with clients. Partners can build a pyramid of talent and plug any skills gap, from level three technical support officers all the way to level seven strategic leaders.

Tech-based apprenticeships are now more important than ever

Apprenticeship schemes that focus on technology are now more relevant than ever, as employees seek to diversify their talent agendas to reflect new ways of working with new ways of training. A recent report by Microsoft Data Science using LinkedIn data anticipates that, by 2025, the UK will need more than three million new skilled people in technology – including 1.5 million new developers and nearly one million new people across Machine Learning, AI, Data and Cloud roles.

The Microsoft and QA apprenticeship programmes will continue evolving as the environment and standards do, offering a path to technology careers and providing a pipeline of talent for businesses seeking it. Looking into 2021 specifically, QA will be playing an active role in Microsoft’s new Get on 2021 campaign, supporting school-leavers in launching careers in technology.

A decade together

Reflecting on the decade together, Becky King, Apprentice Lead at Microsoft UK, says:

“When we were looking to establish an apprenticeship programme for our ecosystem in 2009, QA were an obvious choice of partner for us. As our largest Gold Learning Partner in the UK, they already had a strong track record of training people in Microsoft technologies. We knew they had the commitment and ability to help create, deliver, and scale a new apprenticeship programme for our partners and customers. Over the last 10 years, they’ve absolutely delivered.”

She adds:

“Since the first programmes began, for QA to recruit, place and train over 15,000 Microsoft apprentices into tech jobs in the UK shows the great success of the partnership. They’ve also remained agile, bringing new changes to the programme to ensure they’re always relevant and value-adding.”

QA’s Market Enablement Director, Steve Brennan, says there’s lots more to come from the joint venture:

“QA’s Microsoft Apprenticeship Programmes help empower people to begin their professional IT careers. It provides a unique opportunity for individuals with diverse backgrounds to be placed into work through a formal education apprenticeship programme, which combines work-based learning with Microsoft training and certifications. We are proud of what the partnership has achieved in the last decade – and we’re proud to still be Microsoft’s largest Gold Learning Partner and Apprenticeship Partner. We look forward to celebrating another decade of partnership and continuing to provide the Microsoft technologists of the future.”
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