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At Microsoft, our apprenticeship programme sits beautifully alongside our core vision of empowering every person on the planet to achieve more. Apprenticeships are a great way empower young people to grow and develop new skills that prepare them for the future of work. This gives them the opportunity to start career paths that perhaps wouldn’t have been open to them before.

I am passionate about how apprenticeships can open up opportunity. But with that opportunity comes a great level of responsibility for employers to ensure the experience they create not only for the apprentices, but also for the apprentice managers and the business as a whole. It needs to be well thought out, structured, and planned.

National Apprentice Week is a time for us to celebrate the success of apprentices. It’s also a chance for me to reflect internally at our business to see the impact that our apprenticeship programme delivers currently and how we can deliver further impact in the future.

It is also a time to look around at the amazing work our partners and customers are doing and take learnings back in our business as well. Apprenticeship programmes keep evolving and we’ll continue to make adjustments as we go. This is especially important now as the world of work evolves to embrace the fourth industrial revolution.

I wanted to share an insight into my thinking and share what I am doing during this very important week in the apprenticeship calendar. For anyone involved in apprenticeships, it’s a great opportunity to review your learning and go revisit the basics.

Go back to basics

I am a big believer and advocate that all great apprenticeship programmes are built on strong foundations. If you don’t have a strong structure it is hard to build a good programme. When building your strong foundations, you also need to think about how you scale. What works for 10 apprentices may not work for 30.

My eight back to basic apprentice programme foundations are:

  1. Develop a strong plan for the programme delivery, leveraging the right training providers to support you
  2. Ensure you have the right management programme in place
  3. Explore the job roles covered by the programme and see if these can be expanded and if they are the right fit for those who are early in career
  4. Consider how you can create a great apprentice experience
  5. Regularly review your recruitment and selection process
  6. Provide apprentice managers with the right training and resources to support them along the journey
  7. Keep the wider HR team in the loop
  8. Ensure you have regular communication with apprentices and their managers

I am going to pick out three key areas that I will be looking at during National Apprentice Week to understand how I can improve, learn, and grow on what Microsoft is doing internally.

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1. Delivering a successful apprenticeship programme  

At Microsoft, our internal programme is delivered by six providers. We have created a nurturing partnering environment where our consortium of providers work together with myself and the wider business to develop the right programmes that ensures we deliver maximum business impact. We are one team and we share as much as we can commercially to create a consistent experience for our apprentices and their managers. Creating metrics and having regular reporting reviews with our training providers is a key part of our programme delivery to ensure we’re on the right track.

2. Ensuring regular communication

Strong programme management will help keeps you on track with upcoming milestones, helps spot issues, and is the heart and soul of your delivery. We are really working to now develop a ‘hands on approach’ at scale as our internal programme grows. To ensure success in this area, you need regular communication with the apprentices, their managers and the training provider.

3. Aligning the right candidate with the right role and setting expectations

With the introduction of apprenticeship standards, the way we now approach the delivery of apprenticeship programmes has changed. Getting the match between the apprenticeship programme and the job role that an apprentice will complete is top of my list. This has involved a totally new way for us to generate demand, and what we are asking the business to do before an apprentice starts. We work backwards, starting with the End Point Assessment and have created a learning culture with our manager community. This helps them understand more about their accountabilities and responsibilities. A manager who is aware of their role in the success of their apprentice and that understands their obligations throughout the programme will create a more structured job role and experience for the apprentice. Ultimately, if we do this part right then we can be more accurate when describing the job role to any prospective apprentices and can set the right expectations from the beginning. This ensures the right match of roles and candidate. Don’t underestimate the impact of this part of the puzzle on the success of your apprenticeship programme.

Continuous learning and development

Creating a sustainable, well thought through programme gives apprentices and managers the best opportunity to be successful. During National Apprenticeship Week I will take in all of the fantastic work being undertaken by the many different people involved in delivering our apprenticeship programme and look at how I can create more opportunities for apprentices in Microsoft to achieve more. I may have only touched on three out of my eight apprentice programme foundations. But, by looking at just the three it will help you understand where I will be looking at opportunities to grow and develop myself and the internal apprenticeship programme at Microsoft.

Everything we do internally is shared with the wider, larger programme that is used by our partners and customers so you can be confident that our apprenticeship providers will help you deliver a great experience for your own apprentices.

I hope that in sharing my own learnings and how we will be reviewing our apprenticeship programme ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, it can help you identify how you might improve your own apprenticeship programme to continue to deliver success and develop your future talent pipeline.

About the author

I am the UK Apprentice Lead for Microsoft in the HR team. Working with apprenticeships since 2012, I also have worked with SMEs creating, designing, and delivering large corporate apprenticeship programmes. My role at Microsoft is all about creating and developing an apprenticeship strategy that supports our UK business and delivers an exceptional experience for both our apprentices and our business.