How an apprenticeship enabled me to change careers

Michelle Watkins, apprentice software engineer

Before applying for the Level 4 Software Development apprenticeship at DWP Digital, I was working as a primary school teacher. I’d wanted to change career for about five years but didn’t know what to do.

Some of my friends were encouraging me to get into IT as there had been such a boom since the pandemic, so I started researching digital apprenticeships to get a feel for what I would be interested in.

I’ve have always had a love of learning and previously chosen a career which involved many developments and change. Technology is an ever-changing rewarding field, so a move into this sector was a great way for me to continue to fuel my love of learning.

An advert for the apprenticeship at DWP Digital role caught my eye and got me excited about changing career, something I had previously been anxious about.

Making the leap into a new career

One of the main reasons I applied for the apprenticeship was the salary. I was really surprised by how I was able to earn a decent wage, while learning something new on the job. For me, it meant I could change career with no financial loss.

Another appealing factor was job security. In my previous career, job security was not something I had experienced. I think it’s fantastic that DWP Digital provide secure jobs for apprentices from day one and I don’t have to search, apply and interview for a job at the end of my apprenticeship.

Michelle, wearing a red coat, standing in a field with some horses

I have a degree in English Language and a PGCE in Primary Education, so in terms of experience for my apprenticeship, I felt I had none – unless using an interactive whiteboard counts! However, I was able to apply due to having an A-Level in Maths.

I also found that there are so many transferrable skills which I have brought from teaching. The main thing I’ve had to learn is coding, and programming languages.

The application process

There were five main stages to the application process:

Initial application form and CV

However, the application entry was closing in 30 minutes and I did not have an up-to-date CV! I quickly researched the layout of a CV and what to include and was able to submit my application with 10 minutes to spare!

Online aptitude test

I received an email to say that I had passed the first stage of the recruitment process and was invited to complete an online aptitude test. This test involved a lot of logical reasoning.

Video interview – part one

I was instructed to cover my camera and questions appeared on the screen. I then had 100 seconds to answer. There was a timer on the screen, and it would automatically stop recording when it reached 0. In preparation for this, I researched into DWP Digital, and wrote down why I wanted to do this apprenticeship and what skills I could bring.

Video interview – part two

This was more like a presentation, as I didn’t have to cover the camera. I was provided with questions and could prepare my answers in advance. I used flash cards to help with this. Again, there was a time limit once the recording started.

Final interview

The first part of this was a one-to-one interview with someone from DWP Digital which lasted approximately 60 minutes. This was then followed by a pair task with another candidate where we were observed.

Around four weeks later, I received the good news that I was successful in gaining a position on the Level 4 Software Developer apprenticeship programme.

A typical day as an apprentice software engineer

I usually wake around 7am, and try to fit in some exercise – either running or yoga, before starting work between 8 and 8:30am.

After catching up with emails, it’s time for our daily team stand-up at 9:30am, where we share what we’re working on and highlight areas where we might need support from other members of the team. The rest of the morning is spent in meetings, shadowing my mentor and discussing my current work with my mentor.

Michelle, wearing a yellow coat, standing in front of a lake

I always try to get out for a walk at lunchtime, as it’s the best way to have a break from the coding. After lunch, it’s more meetings and continuing with my work, writing up my learning notes from the day. I finish somewhere between 5pm and 5:30pm.

Outside of work, I really like being outdoors and my main hobby is exploring new places. I’m always walking somewhere new each weekend.

Continuous learning and development

For me, the best part of the apprenticeship is the continuous learning and development opportunities that are available within DWP Digital. There will always be a new programming language to learn, so it’s great that we’re able to access courses, meetings discussing a variety of topics, and ‘lunch and learns’. Day to day, there’s direct learning through shadowing team members or pair programming.

Through the apprenticeship provider, I completed a 12-week bootcamp using Ruby as the main programming language. Soon, I will be starting a Java course provided by DWP Digital.

Like what you’ve heard so far?

I’d encourage anyone considering an IT apprenticeship not to be scared and to take the plunge into the unknown. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

I didn’t have any preconceptions and I had no idea what it would be like. But I’ve really enjoyed seeing how the work I am doing has a positive impact on the general public.

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