Maria Humphries, People Director, Product & Technology at William Hill commented that the “Degree Apprenticeships were an innovative approach that supported our Emerging Talent strategy. William Hill are an organisation that want to encourage people to join, and love to stay. Being able to provide the opportunity for people to study and gain qualifications combined with gaining invaluable knowledge in their day to day roles is something that is at the heart of our internals first and career growth mentality.”
Designed to enhance digital skills, knowledge and career opportunities, the MSc Digital and Technology Specialist (DTS) Degree Apprenticeship awarded by Northumbria University in partnership with QA has ushered in a new era of innovation at William Hill.
As the gaming industry grows more competitive, the market for online digitisation, sophisticated solutions and diversified leaders is the key to staying ahead of the curve.
William Hill recognised the opportunity to grow its capabilities through degree apprenticeships. Enabling staff to learn and earn whilst gaining a qualification has resulted in internal mobility, rapid technology deployment with multifaceted collaboration to resolve critical business challenges using innovative solutions.
Top of the game
The first cohort of William Hill learners consisted of 12 staff eager to improve their academic knowledge and enhance professional development. The opportunity to immediately contextualise their learnings into their day jobs proved invaluable with real-time evidence used as rationale for course work.
Portfolio Analyst, Jedidiah (Jedi) Pabifio, joined William Hill in 2017 as a non-technical project coordinator. He was eager to complete the 24-month (+EPA) Master’s DTS Degree Apprenticeship as his career aspirations and interests were in enterprise architecture. However, with no technical training or professional experience, he knew this flexible way of studying was right for him. He said: “Studying a degree apprenticeship is a blessing in disguise for someone who is passionate about their job and wants to study concurrently. Working four days and having the dedicated one day during the week to study meant the world was my oyster. I am incredibly grateful to work at William Hill where they have invested in my skill set, and I was able to bring the theory into the workplace so we could adapt quickly to new ways of working.”
Delivering technical solutions at speed
Jedi was promoted after showing initiative in bringing new solutions to some key business issues. He has since taken on more challenging tasks and greater responsibility: “I am now influencing the senior stakeholders in the business and working across different business divisions.”
“I was learning the course content and able to implement processes at William Hill which saved the company money in product development” – Jedi Pabifio
Jedi explained, “I had real-time evidence on what I was learning – especially from the business and technology module – I was learning the course content and able to implement processes at William Hill which saved the company money in product development. The opportunity for me to innovate has been invaluable and I learnt ways William Hill can be competitive as a business to leapfrog competitors.”
“We are consistently innovating, and the degree apprenticeships has been a driving force to help me implement new ways of working and guide senior decision makers to move in the same direction” – Jedi Pabifio
During his studies, he compiled a case study on his learnings and approached a senior director on product innovation. Solving a real-time business problem, Jedi was tasked to lead and drive the development and product teams in running and rationalising the IT assets. “We are consistently innovating, and the degree apprenticeship has been a driving force to help me implement new ways of working and guide senior decision makers to move in the same direction,” he added.
Accelerating success with digital diversity
Head of Learning at William Hill, Catherine Green said, “It’s been our mission to support our colleagues and add value to their skill set be that in leadership networking, communication skills or digital and technical developments.”
Advancing digital technology skills for staff is critical to William Hill’s business success. Catherine explained, “It is an area we mustn’t lose sight of in developing because we want to remain the leaders in our industry and to be at the top of our game, we have to be at the forefront of technology innovation.”
“Key soft skills were important for me to grasp to help understand the bigger business-led picture, specifically around transforming personally from a technical focus to a key business management role” – Rob Beardsmore
Alongside Jedi, William Hill’s Rob Beardsmore Deputy Chief Information Security Officer (DCISO) graduated in 2021 with the intention “to learn skills that are often associated with a higher level of education.” With 22 years of infrastructure experience and technical career expertise under his belt he was leading a technical team as Head of Security Architecture. However, Rob found he was missing business-related soft skills such as strong communication and writing skills, reflection techniques and stakeholder evaluation. He said, “these key soft skills were important for me to grasp to help understand the bigger business-led picture, specifically around transforming personally from a technical focus to a key business management role – this is something technical people are renowned for struggling in.”
Supercharging skills and transforming collaboration
Technology is rapidly changing the world around us and something the team at William Hill are acutely aware of. The speed of change from digital delivery, connectivity and aggregation of services has driven the need to upskill and address the digital skills gap with staff and investing to secure its talent.
Chief Information Officer at William Hill, Killian Faughnan explained, “to deliver our strategic objectives we recognised that our people needed to adopt a more outward facing approach. This meant delivering products and services that focussed on enablement through improved knowledge of the business and great stakeholder relationships. Effectively, we want our people to widen their lens and to see outside of their existing are of expertise.”
Rob added, “technology is evolving around us with speed and scale, and it still remains a great importance for our industry with competition so fierce. Our priority is going to market with new products and being able to scale as quickly as possible with new functionality.” A key takeaway Rob has applied since graduating is ensuring his digital leadership skills evolve with his teams need and ensuring he demonstrates self-awareness. The integral link between driving technology transformation for the business and championing team success is second to none. Rob said it was a lightbulb moment for him during his studies and personal progression. “The Msc has been a key part in my career at a transitional point which allowed me to reflect and recognise how I wanted to be a leader and think ahead in a strategic way.”
Real-world problem solving
Being able to look at business problems and needs in a different perspective is something both Rob and Jedi noted as takeaways from studying. Jedi explained, “naturally I have good attention to detail and am organised but completing the master’s has enhanced my research and analytical skills as well as developing my ability to adapt and critically think under deadlines. I now look at solutions with a different dimension that I wouldn’t have historically considered.”
“I have seen a much more pragmatic approach and an improved ability to make decisions effectively and without hesitation” – Killian Faughnan
Synthesising what is important and shedding the rest is what Killian explained was a notable difference in the staff who studied the DTS. He explained, “I have seen a much more pragmatic approach and an improved ability to make decisions effectively and without hesitation due to requiring extraneous detail.”
Looking back at his time studying and after two promotions from Head of Security Architecture to support the CTO in business focussed information security roles, Rob then applied and won his current DCISO role. He bridged the gap between business and technology for William Hill and “the MSc helped a lot with this, it has really enabled me to focus my attention on thinking outside the technical box,” he said. Attributing his success to his studies, the soft skills he learnt during his studies helped Rob prepare for his interviews and new job requirements. He added, “the apprenticeship side of learning meant that the journey was a blend of education and real-life on the job experience. The two go hand-in-hand and have been so valuable for me to successfully break free from the well-known transition problem between technical and business.”
Earn and learn: Flexible solutions
“This way of studying offered me flexibility that fits around my lifestyle – I have a family and three daughters, so I needed a learning solution that was supportive, adaptable to my job requirements and flexible,” Rob said. The ability to apply his learning to his every day and enhance his writing skills with coaching feedback helped Rob hone his craft. He added, “I apply my master’s learning in my job every day, especially the stakeholder management and specialised cyber security component have been fundamental.
Championing success for personal and team enterprise
A passion for driving change Rob and Jedi have individually demonstrated great success throughout the DTS and upon graduation. Both attributing success to their time as studying as degree apprentices.
The opportunity for a non-technical employee to upskill and gain invaluable technical training gave Jedi the evidence that you “can become tech savvy if you have the support, desire and passion to succeed – no matter the conditions.”
From a business perspective, Killian said, “I’ve seen a positive impact in how the business is engaged at all levels, whether that includes talking to commercial stakeholders, or to technical ones. Key challenges are approached pragmatically and focus on the needs of the business rather than the other way around.”
William Hill’s Learning and Development Team have launched an array of initiatives focused on investing in good leadership for staff, Rob explained the way the business is going is exciting and challenging and he’s proud to be involved. Echoing these sentiments, Jedi said: “I can’t quantify how much I have gotten out of studying the DTS, it’s worth more than just the training but gaining lifelong knowledge and skills.”
About William Hill
Founded in the UK in 1934, William Hill has grown into an international and multi-brand business. William Hill has a rich and proud heritage in the global sports betting and gaming market.
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