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Realising an ambition – Bill’s story

Bill Awan's graduation

Bill Awan has always had a keen interest in and aptitude for computers, stretching back to childhood. However, despite pursuing several IT-related qualifications since leaving school at 16, a degree-level qualification has always eluded him. That all changed four years ago when his employer, Buckinghamshire County Council, offered him the opportunity to study for a Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship through The Open University (OU). He jumped at the chance and is now in possession of a BSc (Honours) in Digital and Technology Solutions, having recently completed the degree apprenticeship.

Delighted to have achieved his long-cherished ambition, Bill thinks having the degree apprenticeship qualification will also boost his career prospects.

It will impact on my career going forward, 100%. I already had the experience and the live certifications and now I have the academic qualification as well.

Bill Awan
second/third-line IT analyst, Buckinghamshire County Council

A long journey

Bill Awan's graduation

Getting to this point hasn’t been an easy journey for Bill. His experience at school was mixed – “It was a bit up and down at school for me” - and he left after his GCSEs to take a foundation diploma in IT, followed by a national diploma in music technology. Then Bill enrolled at the University of East London to carry on with his music technology studies, but dropped out after a year because he felt he was going over content he had already learnt at college. Bill took a position at Buckinghamshire County Council through a Level 2 IT apprenticeship scheme but was offered a job part way through his studies so didn’t finish the apprenticeship.

So when he was given this second opportunity to study for an apprenticeship qualification and formalise his learning, Bill knew he wanted to complete it. And this time, he discovered that the content and the format of the learning really suited him. “It was a lot more useful than I expected it to be. At a traditional university you learn without context, but because it was in the workplace, it had context.” Bill particularly enjoyed the module IT systems: planning for success, and thinking more deeply about technical capabilities from a business perspective. This has help him understand the wider context of his role at the council.

"Buckinghamshire County Council became part of the newly formed Unitary Buckinghamshire Council in April 2020 and Bill moved to the new Client Experience Team which I managed in the autumn of 2020," said Frances Phillips, Client Experience Team Manager, Buckinghamshire Council.

Bill’s apprenticeship has allowed him to progress from the Service Desk team into the Client Experience Team following a recent service review, with the role of a second/third-line IT Analyst. He now has the skills to not only manage business-as-usual support calls but to take ownership of his own project tasks. One to mention is the implementation of client software for the new Chip side parking system, Bill worked with both staff and third-party support teams to successfully complete client installation in readiness to go live.

Frances Phillips
Client Experience Team Manager, Buckinghamshire County Council

The importance of support

In the final year of the apprenticeship, Bill took a short break from his studies due to the pressures of Covid-19 and time commitments. Lockdown restrictions meant that he was spending long hours at his computer at home either working or studying, plus he had a young family, so he delayed one module. But, with the support of his manager and the OU he was able to pick up his studies again and complete the apprenticeship. “Covid was a bit challenge,” he says. “Being able to defer one module really helped ease the pressure.”

Dr Chris Thomson, Senior Lecturer and Staff Tutor at the OU, says three-way communication between apprentices, their manager and the OU is really important to ensuring that apprenticeships work, that the workload is manageable and apprentices can access the support that they need. The OU offers extra support when needed. “One of the things we often hear from people who don’t know the OU is that they think it’s too hands off,” says Chris. “But everything is there and the forums and tutors are there if people need additional help.”

Opening up opportunity

Like Bill, many people who learn through the OU also have other responsibilities, such as work, a young family or caring responsibilities. Bill says his apprenticeship peers were a diverse mix of people, many of them having not taken the traditional route of school, university, job. He thinks apprenticeships are a great way for people from diverse backgrounds to progress their careers, achieve personal and professional goals, access qualifications that were previously unavailable to them for whatever reason or move their career in a new direction. “In our organisation there are all sorts of people on apprenticeships. It’s great.”

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