With QA’s IT Apprenticeships and recruitment services, the University of St Andrews has created a pipeline of IT talent since 2012.

As Scotland’s top University hires its 25th QA IT apprentice, learn more about the positive changes QA’s IT apprenticeships have made.

Overseeing the front line IT support services for 10,000 students and 2,500 staff at the top ranking University in Scotland is a huge job – requiring a team people who have in equal parts technical and great interpersonal skills.

The University of St Andrews had (and still has) a backbone of great people, equipped with many years’ experience. However, with a skills shortage of IT professionals in Scotland, St Andrews faced a challenge in 2012.

Where would the next generation of IT professionals come from and how could the team scale sustainably?

The decision to “grow their own” talent came naturally to St Andrews - they see first-hand the effects nurturing and educating people potential on a day-to-day basis after all. As well as the primary purpose of filling skills gaps within their organisation, St Andrews also sought to fulfil a secondary, more philanthropic need – wishing to provide opportunities for young people in the local area.

Apprentice Insight: Taylor’s Story

From Apprentice to Cyber Superstar

The Start of Things to Come

In 2012, St Andrews engaged with QA and found the skills offered in QA’s IT apprenticeships matched the requirements needed to source and shape productive and skilled people who could immediately add value. Following an initial consultation, the decision was made to hire 3 IT apprentices with QA.

Like any new venture, there were some initial concerns – this was a significant shift for St Andrews, who traditionally recruited graduates. Founded in the 15th century, St Andrews is Scotland's first university and the third oldest in the English speaking world.

Any worries were never to materialise. QA sourced and prepared candidates for St Andrews to interview. Within weeks, St Andrews had three eager and engaged young people ready to start.

The impact of the apprentices quickly became apparent - not just bringing much needed IT skills but a whole raft of other benefits too. Pauline Brown, Associate Chief Information Officer (Service Delivery), University of St Andrews says:

“The apprentices QA help us to find have brought about a cultural change to the IT department, as well as increased customer satisfaction levels. The apprentices’ energy and capacity for learning has a hugely positive impact on the team.”

The practical application of skills and competencies unique to QA IT apprenticeships is brought to life in the St Andrew story, with apprentices blending their learning whilst adding value from the off. The work based learning programmes offered by QA have helped to reduce call resolution rates, saving the University time and money.

From Apprentice to Cyber Superstar

In 2017 Sam was appointed IT Security Analyst joining St. Andrews newly formed IT Security team. A year later Sam and his manager were named Outstanding Cyber Team in October 2018 at the Scottish Cyber Awards.

“Not Like Other Apprenticeships”

Since the beginning of the apprenticeship partnership between QA and St Andrews, the University, founded in 1413 has hired QA IT apprentices annually – bringing on board at least 2 apprentices and up to 4 each year.

But St Andrews realise it’s not just down to the learning provider to make apprenticeships a success, they invest time and energy to make sure every apprentice is given the best opportunities to succeed. On organisational engagement throughout apprenticeships, Pauline notes:

“We do everything we can to give apprentices the best possible opportunity during their two years with us – to make sure they have enviable and competitive CVs for the next stage of their careers. All IT apprentices that we’ve recruited have secured full time roles in the IT industry at the end of their apprenticeship contract. But that takes a bit of extra effort from our side.”

Pauline continues: “Before an apprentice starts, we meet their parents/guardians, so everyone understands what’s involved and required of them. On the apprentice’s first day, I take them to meet the CIO and he gives them a tour of our data centre and provides a strategic overview of what we do as a function and where this fits with the bigger picture. We assign mentors and give our apprentices extra activities (outside of the QA curriculum) including presentation skills, interview training, work placements in other organisations - as well as additional training from the University’s staff development function. It’s very rewarding to see our apprentices grow and develop in their skills and confidence over their time with us.”

St Andrews use of apprenticeships is testament to the power of work-based learning. Pauline says:
“Once we’d been doing it a few years it was clear that ours were not like other apprenticeships. Having QA by our side for what has been, and will hopefully continue to be a very successful relationship has been important. Our QA Account Managers know us and know the kind of people that will fit our needs perfectly, this helps things to run smoothly.”

Pauline’s sentiments are justified as St Andrews have gone on to win multiple awards for their apprenticeship provision.

Taylor’s Story

QA has helped me grow as a person inside and outside of work, it has really developed my technical skills and knowledge in areas I previously wasn’t sure about, it has also made me way more confident as a person because every time I do a course at QA I am meeting a whole new class of people and working alongside them.

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“My name Is Taylor Davies, I am currently a first year apprentice at the University of St. Andrews. I have been interested in working with computers for a while now, I am interested in seeing how hardware and software works.

At home, I enjoy playing football and socialising. I also help out my parents with any technical issues they may encounter, it’s almost like working at home sometimes.

My job at the University is great, I have a lot of fun here whilst learning at the same time, the tasks I do can vary between very simple quick jobs to very technical, time consuming jobs which is what I like about it, it always changes.

I applied to be an apprentice because I think the apprenticeship scheme is great for young people like me, it gives me a good taste of working in a big organisation while learning and getting paid at the same time, it helps prepare you for adult life.

I applied to QA because I had heard good things about the company and they specialise in the roles of work I’m most interested in. I found out about this apprenticeship because I had an account set up with QA previously. So when the University announced they had roles, QA let me know right away.

QA has helped me grow as a person inside and outside of work, it has really developed my technical skills and knowledge in areas I previously wasn’t sure about, it has also made me way more confident as a person because every time I do a course at QA I am meeting a whole new class of people and working alongside them.

The University has helped me grow as well, it has really helped my confidence and technical skills, and I have learned a lot already in my first year from some of the best mentors.

Before I got the apprenticeship I was sceptical about how it would be, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it has turned out to be the best job I’ve had so far, it’s enjoyable and educational. The University are flexible with their apprentices, if I say to my boss “I’m just going to sit and complete some QA assignments” she is more than happy to let me take some time out and get it done.

The best thing I have learned during my apprenticeship is confidently working on issues myself and trying to resolve them using nothing but the skills I have learned during my time here, and to always ask for help if I’m not sure on something.

My apprenticeship will help me achieve my goals because it will educate me properly in this line of work. When it comes to getting a job that I really want I will hopefully have the knowledge and grades to get it.

A few things have surprised me in this apprenticeship, one of them being how vital IT services are to making this whole University run the way it should be, another thing that has surprised me is how much pressure it can be working in this line of work and how well a lot of people can handle it.

I would say to someone considering an apprenticeship to 100% go for it, as your working, learning and getting paid all at the same time, plus your fully qualified by the end of it so that benefits your adult life massively. I think the University doing an apprenticeship scheme is really beneficial to a lot of young people round this area as it’s such a massive organisation and it certainly points you in the right direction for later life.”

What’s Next?

Pauline Brown, Associate Chief Information Officer (Service Delivery), University of St. Andrews - "We are going to continue to recruit apprentices with QA and continue sharing our experience of hiring apprentices with others - we are huge advocates of apprenticeships” 


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