Building an IT infrastructure and a future
When you meet Joshua Uwadiae, you first notice his easy smile and his rapid-fire Cockney accent. A clip holds his tie in place as he leans over a keyboard, testing a fix to an IT problem. He appears in his element surrounded by servers and computers, and he breaks into a grin when his workaround succeeds.
“Everything that’s happened in the apprenticeship taught me I can actually become something. The potential’s endless.” Here, in the electric glow of a row of PCs, you’d never know that Joshua used to run in a gang in a rough London neighborhood. You’d never know that he has been arrested and was expelled from school at 15. You’d never know that he describes his old self as ruthless, violent and disrespectful. You’d never know that he once felt hopeless, seeing only a future of moving up in the gang’s hierarchy and selling drugs.
Today, Joshua works as an IT manager at eCourier, an international service that uses an algorithm to ensure couriers efficiently deliver documents, medical specimens and the like. To say Joshua is an important part of the company is an understatement; recently, despite being the youngest member of the team by far, he solved a breakdown in technology for a client in Brussels—a success he points to as the highlight of his fledgling career.
Getting from the point of being a despondent dropout to an invaluable IT manager came from Joshua’s hard work, but he is the first to acknowledge he wouldn’t have made it this far without the support and training of the QA Apprenticeship program. QA partners with Microsoft’s Get On! Initiative, which educates young people in computer systems so they can thrive in technology jobs; the program contributes to Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative to help young people across the globe launch careers and improve their communities.
The apprenticeship program helped Joshua build skills he never had. He discovered a love of technology and mastered soft skills that would help him land a career. He wrote a resumé and practiced interviewing. He was trained in database software, server support and troubleshooting. He found that technical problem-solving satisfied his curiosity and tendency to critically consider challenges from new angles. In addition to computer science skills he earned in training, he learned patience and how to keep a cool head under pressure. The program set up meetings with potential employers and matched Joshua with eCourier. He interviewed and landed the job.
Ensuring others have access to opportunity
Joshua credits the apprenticeship program not only for helping him find employment, but also for helping him boost his confidence and secure a more stable future. “I feel like the work I do is valuable and impacts the company, and I feel like I can make a difference,” Joshua says. “Despite my limited experience, I can ask with enough inquisitiveness to improve things, and in a year or two I can say, I built this company’s infrastructure to a respectable place. “It’s not like I just clock in and clock out. Whether for the company or myself, what I do is relevant to my future.”
For Joshua, though, it isn’t enough to turn his own life around; he wants to make sure others have the same opportunity, so he is now an Apprentice Ambassador. He has traveled throughout Europe representing the program, speaking to young people about the benefits of learning a trade and testifying to how much it has transformed his life. At one conference, he gave a speech about the impacts of apprenticeships to heads of non-profits, tech start-ups and global corporations. It was a much smaller event, though, that hit closer to home.
Joshua recently returned to the school where he had such trouble. “I used to be a menace in this place,” he remembers. When he was in school, he spent nearly every day in a section of the school simply called The Unit, where kids in trouble were sent. Yet on this day, he walked through the front doors of the school feeling proud, not chastened. Walking the halls, he saw kids like he used to be—already cynical, strutting as if they owned the school, wearing a mask of disdain to show how little they cared. He couldn’t speak to each person, but he could start a ripple effect that might influence a few students’ futures. As part of a careers day, he spoke to fifteen kids about his path from delinquency to legitimacy. The students, dressed in uniforms of grey vests and blazers, first seemed skeptical. Apprenticeships, they thought, were a second-rate option to university.
“You don’t have to go down that road, hit the status quo of being young and angry and involved in gangs,” he said. He told them about another way out—becoming an apprentice and launching a career. By the end of the session, nearly everyone said they’d consider pursuing an apprenticeship. More importantly, though, Joshua proved through his own success that they could earn respect and grow confidence not by selling drugs or pulling off crimes but by landing a respectable job and making a difference in the workplace.
“If anyone ever said to me, in five years you’ll come back to this school victorious and be an example and a testimony to other people, I’d have said, you don’t know me. I’d never have believed it,” Joshua says. Yet that’s precisely what happened. He even has plans to return to The Unit regularly and mentor young people before they lose themselves down the road he walked. In addition to continuing his course in IT and reaching out to young people, Joshua thinks he may start his own business someday. One thing is certain, though: Nothing holds him back. “Everything that’s happened in the apprenticeship taught me I can actually become something,” he says. “The potential’s endless.”