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Meet our client: BCN Group

BCN Group provides managed IT and cloud services and believes in the power of technology to help organisations work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. It also understands that many businesses view technology with fear and uncertainty.

This is why, though its mission is to help companies transform into modern, agile, digitally empowered workplaces, its methods are relationship-driven – there is nothing like the human touch. It’s also why its fast-growing team of 180 industry-accredited tech experts are problem-solvers, but also have a passion for customer service.  

Tackling the universal digital skills shortage 

Finding the right people to deliver BCN's suite of services isn’t always easy, however – especially in today’s challenging tech talent market. With demand for tech services growing even greater thanks to Covid-induced changes to the world of work, BCN’s business is flourishing. But recruitment is a challenge, as Simon Heafield, Group Operations Director, explains: 

“Demand for tech talent is high and with salaries rising fast, senior talent is continually being enticed to go elsewhere. At the same time, really good people often stay in a business and work their way up the ranks and diversify into different roles. Which means we are finding that a lot of the people on the market are poor-quality candidates. We interviewed many people over the last 12 months to try to fulfil our commitments to new customers, but were rejecting 99% of them, because they did not have the technical cloud skills we were looking for.   

“I don't want techies to be robots. I want them to be people with characters. I am looking for people with personality as well as with the drive and ambition to succeed at BCN. I want our customers to want to call them and have a conversation.”   

Homegrown tech talent 

BCN’s desire to find people with the right fit for its company culture has led to an increasing focus on nurturing its own talent. Bringing in young and older apprentices who can be shaped and developed into a future-ready workforce seemed an obvious way to create a talent pipeline. BCN had been working with QA Apprenticeships for over five years, establishing an apprenticeship programme, and with a rising demand for candidates, the programme and the partnership has been increasingly proving its value.   

It’s the personal relationship that BCN values with QA too. “I think the quality of people that I've worked with at QA is the reason that we've stayed loyal with the company. QA has done a really good job of understanding me, understanding our business, and understanding what we want from the type of person that we hire. It’s why we now use QA as an exclusive partner.” 

“I'm all about attitude versus aptitude. We can teach people how to do something, but if they don’t have the right attitude, that's more difficult to change. QA’s selection process seems to be very thorough – certainly the people that we’re getting through the door have got those characteristics that I'm looking for.”  

QA’s candidate recruitment and assessments in October 2021 were particularly fruitful, Simon recalls. “In October last year we had five people attend the assessment day in Leeds and we took four of them on, and in Manchester we took on four candidates out of seven – which shows that the team at QA really understand the type of people that we're looking for. We’re having success after success." 

A digital curriculum built for the future  

QA’s Digital by Design curriculum, our award-winning blended learning approach that supports the learner to be more successful in their assessment, at their workplaces and to stay engaged throughout their apprenticeship, has helped keep the programme moving. QA apprentices have access to digital resources, including Cloud Academy, which offers 10,000+ hours of additional content such as videos, quizzes, and labs in a variety of tech and digital disciplines.  

Joseph Daniels, one of BCN’s most recent apprentices, explains:  

“The courses are done virtually and there’s no travelling required, so it is much easier to complete. The apprenticeship has opened up my knowledge to things that I didn’t know previously, and through the use of Cloud Academy, I’ve had access to lots of learning resources that I can use to develop my knowledge and that translates to my work on the support desk.”  

In additional to the technical training, BCN apprentices have thrived because of the excellent pastoral care given by the managers and mentors of the BCN group.  

QA is a Microsoft Gold Partner, and Simon is also appreciative of QA’s emphasis on Microsoft training, believing its focus on Azure and cloud services is the right approach, not only for what BCN sells and supports, but for the way the industry is moving in general. 

“I am very excited to see the new range of Microsoft apprenticeship programmes launched by QA, especially the Level 6 Digital & Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship programme with Microsoft certifications built at its core. This will provide an invaluable way for BCN Group to both retain and develop our new and future a talent – along with a great opportunity for our existing employees to also gain a degree through a funded workplace learning programme."   

Simon Lambert, Chief Learning Officer, Microsoft UK, says, “As a leading Microsoft Gold Partner, QA is embedding Microsoft learning content in their apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. They are supporting our Get On skills campaign and have a forward-thinking approach to delivery that aligns with Microsoft’s ambitious vision for apprenticeships.”

Upping the skills level and the energy 

The new intake of apprentices is already having a big impact on BCN’s business. Despite being in training roles, the apprentices very quickly increased the company’s output, considerably raising the number of tickets (customer queries) that were taken and closed.  

The apprentices have also brought a new dynamic that’s being felt across the business. “The main thing they’re bringing is energy,” says Simon. “The apprentices are like sponges – they want to learn and they’re hungry. And that’s infectious. It’s driving forward the people that are already established in our business – they are having to step up. We can see where there are weaknesses in our existing team and where we need to help them to be better.” 

Rajan Singh is the perfect example of the drive that an apprentice can bring and what it can help them achieve: “People learn in various ways and this method worked for me. I was able to apply my learning in a practical working day environment as well as learn from my mistakes. I had multiple mentors who all guided me through the portfolio and ensured I was happy with my role.  

“With the help of QA and BCN, my learning excelled rapidly, and I was quickly promoted to Support Team Leader. The experience I had throughout this process was exceptional and led to another job opportunity as Service Continuity Manager – a Group role. As the company expands, I plan to take every opportunity to progress my experience and improve my ability to achieve my future goals.” 

BCN Academy: building a better future 

For the team at BCN, the apprenticeship programme is part of a wider initiative to attract, develop and retain talent across the company, one that BCN is calling BCN Academy. The initiative includes working with local colleges to inspire the next generation. Simon is in talks with UTC Warrington to deliver workshops on tech-related subjects and hopes that this will help BCN identify future apprenticeship candidates. 

There’s an element of social mobility at play here too. The best apprenticeship candidates may not all be tech natives, i.e. don’t have personal laptops or other tech equipment. However, they are often able to demonstrate a real interest in the subject. BCN sees the Academy as a supportive force to drive people, to develop them and reward them for building new skills, and over the last two years BCN is proud to have been able to increase its starting salaries to help young starters get a foot on the career ladder.

Attracting more women into the business is a key element of the apprenticeship programme too, and the team is finding that the female recruits often bring fresh skills and dynamism to the group.  

Looking to the future, BCN Group is planning to work with QA to expand the apprenticeship programme and keep building its talent pipeline for future growth, not only for the tech team but across its professional services team too.  

A last word from Simon Heafield: “I’d like to bring two to four new apprentices into the business every three months or so, to keep that flow of people coming through to give us a constant feed of talent.  

“There's a massive emphasis for us to really push ahead with it, because we're bringing in these really good people that everyone is giving positive feedback for. It’s something I wouldn’t be doing if I didn’t trust QA to bring in the right quality of people and give them the right training. We just want to do more of it because it works.” 

Angela Evans, Partner Strategy & Marketing Director, Microsoft UK, says, “As a valued Microsoft Gold Partner, it is fantastic to see BGN Group committing to Microsoft’s Partner Apprenticeship pledge and successfully recruiting Microsoft apprentice talent into their business.”