In March 2020, when the prospect of the first national lockdown loomed, Bournemouth-based Transparity, a pureplay Microsoft provider, moved its entire business online. As a cloud-based business, it decided that its potential for growth and delivering excellent customer service was best served by following its own business mantra: move away from old technology and old thinking into the new digital age.

Transparity’s core work involves helping clients switch from servers and infrastructure to working in the cloud, providing the support they need to upgrade their equipment and software and enabling them to deliver smart communications and services across their business. And with the pandemic forcing a change in working practices, demand was soaring.

By taking their own work exclusively online, the team at Transparity freed up its business model to grow and expand on a national level; without the ties of a physical office, it was able to recruit without geographical restrictions. The company went into lockdown with a head count of around 60 people and, excluding acquisitions they’ve made along the way, today’s headcount stands at 150.

“Business growth is great but finding the right calibre of people at the right time is one of the big restrictions,” explains Neil Tune, Transparity’s Chief People and Culture Officer. The rapid expansion was a challenge, and one Transparity has met successfully in more ways than one, with levels of employee engagement that are as good, if not better, than before the move online. But despite the success of the "win from anywhere" policy, the team felt that there was more to be done to deliver the best possible company culture now and in the future.

Answering the culture challenge

Neil (right) explains: “Our growth creates a great opportunity for us to bring people in and develop our own talent. I know that when you’re looking to build a great culture and have highly engaged people, a sense of personal growth – knowing that you’re learning – is key to people feeling that they’re in the right place. So, for me, recruiting apprentices and supporting people on their own development journeys is a critical part of attracting, keeping and growing great people in the business.”

The second element to changing the culture was around gender balance. “Our sector is very male dominated. But we believe we have a great opportunity to influence that by bringing women into those grassroot roles to create opportunities and maybe breakdown a few of those barriers.”

Finally, there was also a social mobility element at play. Tech qualifications are not the primary qualification of a successful Transparity candidate.

More importantly is someone who is looking to learn and grow, to maintain and increase their skills and who really wants to be part of a team and support others in the team.

Was there a way to find candidates like this who had a passion for technology, but who didn’t necessarily have the work experience to prove it?

Transparity and QA – a match made in technology

Establishing a company apprenticeship programme seemed to provide a clear answer to all three issues, but with no experience themselves, it was clear that Transparity would need a partner to help them achieve its goals.

Neil explains: “We saw that QA had expertise in the technology and Microsoft world and that its programmes matched our sort of ecosystem. It brought a credibility factor and crucially was offering great programmes that could be delivered virtually. That was important to us; we were beginning to look at accessing the whole of the UK as a talent pool, so virtual classes and virtual support were key.

“This was a completely new journey for us, so it felt a bit daunting with a lot of admin and systems to set up. But I felt that QA would be a good partner and that we would get a lot of support there as well.”

Breaking through the experience barrier

The company found its first IT apprenticeship candidate, Alex, in the brother of an existing employee. Alex had studied IT at college, but unfortunately his teachers lost his entire year’s coursework leading him to become disheartened. He had been working in retail before taking on his father’s floor-laying business, but when Covid hit, he found himself out of work. Transparity could see Alex’s potential and asked QA to enrol him as its very first apprentice.

Alex has seized the opportunity: “A lot of IT companies and industries want experience, but it’s very difficult to get that if you haven’t studied the right stuff at college or university. An apprenticeship gives you a kind of freedom to give things a go in an industry that you’re really interested in.

“It’s been great having something to work towards and the team at QA was really helpful. I’m already a fully employed first line technician and hope to be a second line technician soon, and eventually a technical architect.”

The second cohort of apprentices – two of them women – included Chelsea, a former drama student: “I had done a lot of free jobs with theatre companies making sets and props, but there’s only so much free stuff you can do before you get that crash of reality; you know you need to pay bills. I started getting demotivated when looking for jobs – everyone wants experience. So, after doing some mini courses in IT I decided to apply for an apprenticeship through QA and it told me about the opening with Transparity. I really liked that the company is willing to invest in people who might not have had much of a background in IT. It was cool: ‘You did drama which is completely different to IT. Come on board.’”

“The people at QA have been great, and their lessons have been some of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve felt very supported – Alex, the first apprentice, has been my guru, he’s helped me every step of the way. And I’ve joined Women in Transparity – a support group run by women in the company. It gives you lots of tips and inspiration and tells you about key women in the industry.

“I’ve actually already recommended someone for an apprenticeship here. I can really see the progression I’ve made and Transparity make you feel like there’s places to go.”

The benefits of visible transformation

It’s been a rewarding process too for Neil and the leadership team at Transparity: “I think across the business, people are very supportive of seeing us investing in talent and bringing people through, so I think it’s helping improve the conversation around people’s development.

“Alex has already been promoted to a first line support technician, and he’s banging on the door really for a second line support role. He also just won one of our peer-voted annual awards – the Best Self Award – for somebody that has been recognised as showing a lot of investment into their own growth and learning. It’s nice to see that other people are recognising Alex’s hard work.”

The business is making progress on the gender front too. At the start of 2020 there were 10 females in the business. Today the figure stands at 33 – around 22% of the workforce, and 27% of hires this financial year have been women.

After such a promising start, Transparity is keen to continue and is currently recruiting for the next cohort of apprentices. There is talk of offering apprenticeships at different levels and across different functions and the team is keen to look in more depth at social mobility candidates, working closely with QA to ensure that promising candidates are supported to fulfil the necessary qualification requirements.

“It’s been good to be able to rely on QA’s learning expertise,” says Neil. “We’re confident that it is providing the right input to support our apprentices and providing a structured learning process that’s obviously working. It is a very good partner.”

“Now I would love to widen the programme. I think it is a practical demonstration that we’re trying to do the right things around diversity, social mobility, and career opportunities. It’s easy to talk about it but even better to be able to demonstrate that you’re doing the right things.”

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