About our client: Vodafone
Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help its customers benefit from digital innovation. Vodafone’s services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
It has a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. As of June 2021, Vodafone has 5G in 364 locations across Europe, its 4G network coverage reaches over 99% of the UK population and it serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK.
Vodafone is more than a mobile phone retailer. Behind the shop front is a vast infrastructure requiring constant maintenance. Ensuring continuous availability for its customers is a 24/7 job, with engineers and technicians working around the clock, often in challenging environments. From ground level fixed-line installations and critical repairs to high-level work on mobile cell towers, constant monitoring and maintenance is required to ensure the country stays connected.
No two days are the same for Vodafone’s team of engineers, technicians and specialists. Tasked with installing, maintaining, and future-proofing Europe’s largest mobile and fixed network, their roles are as diverse as they come. Among the team are apprentices, gaining invaluable life experience while being moulded into future Vodafone engineers and mentors.
Needed: A programme to coach new talent
A few years ago, Vodafone began to see a concerning trend: many of its skilled engineers were retiring, taking with them knowledge and experience critical to such diverse work. The company needed a programme that would allow them to build a pipeline of talent for the future.
In 2017, Vodafone began working with QA to build a bespoke apprenticeship scheme. The result was an 18-month Unified Communications Apprenticeship in mobile, fixed fibre and enterprise technology. Its hybrid approach combines instructor-led tuition, QA mentorship and hands-on fieldwork and is constantly adapted and updated for a continually evolving industry.
Graham Webb, Vodafone’s Field Operations Manager, comments:
“The apprenticeship programme we’ve created with QA focuses on developing a converged skill set, meaning apprentices can quickly meet the diversity of the job. This makes a real difference to our talent pipeline; we can bring people in, develop them to our model, and help them specialise. This journey will add huge value across the business for years to come.”
The value of finding the right apprentices
QA’s ability to find candidates with the right attitude and aptitude for the Level 3 Unified Comms apprenticeship is essential for long-term success. Through experienced mentoring and support, QA also helps apprentices stay the course, so both the individual and the business get maximum benefit from the programme.
The value of staying the course is epitomised by two candidates placed by QA on the Unified Comms Apprenticeship: Jack Dodd and Charlotte Isherwood completed the programme with flying colours, securing themselves exciting career paths at Vodafone in spite of having no previous relevant experience.
Following his apprenticeship, Jack continued developing his career and trained to become a category one Climbing Technician. He is now fully rescue-and- climbing trained, working independently as part of Vodafone’s climbing resource. In a team locally of 22 engineers, he is one of only four climbers.
Reflecting on his apprenticeship experience, Jack commented:
“I didn’t want to go to university; I felt being an apprentice gave me more career options. I could learn, earn, and have a guaranteed job at the end of it. When I started, it was hugely daunting – we work on critical infrastructure straight away, but the QA mentors and tutors kept me on track and supported my ambitions. I liked how I could take my learnings from the classroom and practically apply them in the field straight away. For me, new skills stick quicker that way.
“People think apprenticeships are easy, but they’re hard work. However, they give you a drive to continually develop and learn on the job, which is why I want to continue training and improve even further. If I get the chance to progress and take on the challenge of an advanced apprenticeship, I won’t hesitate.”
Charlotte completed the same apprenticeship a few years later, earning a distinction. She describes why she chose a career path with Vodafone:
“The level of independent work out in the field really appealed to me; I didn’t want to sit in an office all day. The apprenticeship also covered a wide range of technologies, meaning I could apply skills directly to the job but also open up future opportunities for myself in other areas of the business.”
Charlotte, now a Field Technician with Vodafone, is the only woman in her team. She feels young women overlook technical apprenticeships.
“We weren’t advised about apprenticeships in school, but I’d 100% recommend this journey for young women; it’s a chance to do something different and unexpected. Being a technology apprentice has given me so much confidence. I’ve met such a broad range of people and gained amazing real-world experience. I can’t explain how much good it’s done for me, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without it.”
A culture of learning: the apprentice becomes the mentor
Successful apprentices like Jack and Charlotte show the personal value of Vodafone’s programme. Both now work in the business as skilled technicians with high ambitions to go further in their careers. Having apprentices in the team has developed a culture of learning, where apprentices bring in the latest technical knowledge and share that with the broader team. Charlotte believes experienced engineers can learn from apprentices as much as apprentices can learn from them:
“During my apprenticeship, I found myself teaching some of the older engineers new skills that I was learning. When you’ve been doing a job for a while, you sometimes forget the theoretical parts. Apprentices bring up-to-date knowledge back into the business which then benefits the wider team. There’s a positive attitude towards apprentices in Vodafone and a willingness to share experiences so we can all get better.”
Meanwhile, Jack now mentors new apprentices as they follow in his footsteps.
“Having been where they are, I can help new apprentices coming through. If I’m out with them, I can refer to my training and help them understand the relevance of what they’re learning. I’ve been in their shoes, so I can sympathise and hopefully inspire them to keep going.”
A win-win situation for individuals and business
The wide-ranging and challenging nature of the apprenticeship experience at Vodafone, combined with QA’s ability to deliver engaging training, is reaping rewards. Vodafone sees the majority of its apprentices not only stay the course, but go on to long-term and rewarding careers.
“Over the last few years, the calibre of apprenticeship programmes has gone from strength to strength. With guidance and support from QA, our apprentices have a real opportunity to develop quickly. They become valuable, respected team members and, in just 18 months, build the foundation for a bright future.
“I don’t think organisations can lose on apprenticeships – we work with hand-picked candidates and develop them into people the company really needs. Going through this programme gives individuals a chance to build experience and qualifications simultaneously, and as a business, we gain a level of trust and respect that you don’t get with standard new hires.”
Vodafone’s apprenticeship scheme continues to take on new cohorts every September, and in the last few years, more women have joined their programme. Thanks to the apprenticeship, the company’s pipeline of talent has never looked stronger. Its latest slogan, "Together we can", could not be more relevant.
What can QA do for you?
If your organisation needs a talent or apprenticeship programme, click here for more information on working with QA Apprenticeships and please get in touch.