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Degree apprenticeships / sponsored degrees in Business Management for Information Technology or Information Systems Management

Introduction

'When I put on a suit I feel good; I sense I will do something exciting and beneficial with my day.' - CGI apprentice

For those with great people skills, who are motivated by tech-buzz (though not necessarily technical), this innovative CGI degree apprenticeship (DA) programme is a must-investigate. DAs are simultaneously student and employee and combine the academic rigour of studying for an honours degree at university with permanent full-time employment – DAs still get the degree but more besides. Despite the demands of the workplace they complete their degree in three years, the same time as full-time students. They benefit from working on live projects from day one, so put the theory they study at university into practice in the workplace and understand their studies better because they have seen the theory put into practice. With a constant stream of experts on tap, both in the workplace and at university, it’s little wonder they develop their knowledge, skills and understanding fast.

CGI is one of the leading independent information technology and business process services providers in the world, providing end-to-end IT for major companies across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific. An extremely diverse client base means there’s a real need to attract people from different backgrounds and higher apprentices are part of the response to that need. CGI believes that recruiting individuals from a variety of educational, social and geographical backgrounds makes for a more creative, dynamic and ultimately competitive workforce, which equals business sense.

The overarching programme is the same for all DAs but individually they work on different projects and in different roles within CGI – so experiences and final skill sets may vary.

Once they have been with CGI for a year or so, apprentices are able to influence the choice of projects they work on and the roles they take on – learning to be an advocate for yourself is an important part of succeeding as an apprentice. Much of CGI’s expertise is embedded in its older workers; learning from them is a fundamental part of the apprenticeship.

The highly professional, friendly CGI recruitment team takes a keen personal interest in the well-being and progress of each apprentice and genuinely cares about their welfare and progress, going to great lengths to encourage achievement and excellence. In turn the articulate, engaged, enthusiastic apprentices develop into highly effective, valued employees.

Why an apprenticeship?

'We want top management people from the DA/sponsored degree programme.' - CGI executive sponsor

The CGI DAs we spoke to were keen to sprint up the career ladder and see the DA/sponsored degree route as potentially placing them ahead of those following the conventional first degree then job route.

‘The applied nature of the apprenticeship allows almost instant contribution to the bottom line. Our new joiners are making an impact on the business from their first week and feedback from senior management is excellent. We want apprenticeships to be viewed as a prestigious option for school leavers.’ - CGI recruitment manager

The company freely admits that market forces are at play too. In 2001, 32 per cent of employees in the sector were under 30 but by 2011 this had shrunk to 19 per cent.

'For ten years the under 30s were neglected and insufficient young talent was developed. If the recruitment pool is dry then we must look to train our way out of the problem.' - CGI

For their part, DAs say they enjoy working as part of a team, getting on with the job and being supported by their project managers. 'When you do a good job you usually get a thank you,’ says one DA. ‘Everyone enjoys positive feedback.’ As well as a line manager, each apprentice also gets an army of support, including a ‘buddy’, a fellow apprentice from the year above, a work-based study mentor, plus the guidance of HR and university staff. An HR team member meets the six apprentice representatives bi-weekly to get feedback on progress and achievements as well as to discuss any concerns or issues. Each apprentice has a people manager who, where possible, stays with them throughout their career, and a project manager who deals with them on current assignments.

What exactly do they do?

Keep secrets, programme, project manage, graduate.

From day one DAs can find themselves involved in a wide range of business processes, from project management to marketing, or managing and mapping business models. They work in project teams for a wide variety of companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce, SAFRAN, Dassault Aviation, Volvo Aero Corporation and BAE Systems. Some projects are for companies that operate in secure or highly confidential or restricted business arenas so discretion, integrity and discernment are key. It's even possible that signing the official secrets act may be an initial task. Not all projects are straight out of a Bond movie. Many are non ‘life-threatening’ large scale business applications but that doesn't mean they're any less exciting. HAs work on enterprise and data architecture. In other words: designing, planning and analysing how data is collected, stored, arranged, integrated and put to use or managing and mapping business models and information assets. This is big stuff – they might even be 'paying your wages' and helping you spend what you earn as CGI annually process £28 billion UK payslips for more than 1.5 million employees and serve a million card customers via bank, loyalty, fuel and international Visa/Mastercard transactions.

When first outlined, the whole process – induction, starting at uni and going straight on to projects – can seem daunting to newbies, but they are helped and supported.

'I was quite nervous about working with the client for the first time but I'm more relaxed now.’ - CGI DA

‘I’ve built up a relationship with clients - I understand what they need and what I need to do for them.’ - CGI DA

It's possible to be working on more than one project at a time. 'At present I have four clients; I present the documents I have written and they give constructive feedback,' said another DA.

Once they have gained enough experience DAs have a voice in deciding the sort of project they should work on next. Those doing the BSc option will study programming and spend much of their time 'developing and testing' on projects but their business training comes in useful and opens the way for career development.

Training

'At university you can’t usually trial things from the real world but on this programme we constantly work on real problems.' - GCI apprentice

Week one is induction week, a chance to cover off important issues such as security and health and safety. DAs spend the week learning about the company, including expected behaviours, and bonding with fellow apprentices. For the next three years HAs split their time between work and study; four days a week on the job at either Reading or Leatherhead and one day a week at the University of Winchester's leafy campus working towards either a BA or BSc (Hons). DAs may be studying part-time but they have a full-time plus attitude.

'They’re only here at university one day a week but not only do they keep up with the work but typically they have a greater appreciation of deadlines, better personal time management and are about ten percentage points above our other students. Interaction and healthy competition drives them.' - University course leader

More than 80 per cent achieve a 2:1 or better; about 60 per cent with first class honours degrees. All receive their awards, alongside others, at the University’s graduation ceremony held in the splendour of Winchester Cathedral.

The combined apprenticeship/degree programme was launched in 2013, building on the sponsored degree programme founded in 2007. All modules on the university course have a vocational flavour, with input from CGI staff. The university says it is very committed to CGI and finds them a supportive and enlightened organisation, though as with any 'learning curve' there were a few bumps along the way but both seem proud of the end result.

The university say: 'It is an example of what can be achieved when universities are responsive to the needs of business and when business recognises the resources and assistance that universities can give them in helping their development.' - Other universities take note.

The University of Winchester hope to extend the model to other companies and, for their part, CGI see value in training locally, not least because it fosters retention - so much so that in the future they hope to run schemes in Scotland and in Wales.

The great thing about a built in degree course is that students get a university experience and have some lectures and seminars with other Winchester students. CGI apprentices report they are broadly happy with the degree course though, as with students and degree courses nationwide and beyond, there are odd grumbles about some modules and the odd dull lecture. It's clear the degree component is extremely attractive to the apprentices and, while the consensus is they feel they learn more at work than at uni and they perceive a gap between academic work and the real job, we suspect they will appreciate the true value of the degree as they move across projects and progress through their careers.

Most of CGI’s higher apprentices join straight from school at the age of 18, or after trying uni or working elsewhere, but a few join the scheme having completed an advanced IT apprenticeship scheme (for those who leave school at 16). CGI is part of the Business Disability Forum, and recent successful graduates from the sponsored degree programme include a dyslexia champion.

Many of the staff at the University of Winchester are from the business world and so appreciate CGI’s needs. Some lecturers are CGI employees. Apprentices are encouraged to approach senior managers to ask them to support their university project research. This not only helps their project but potentially offers the chance to explore new areas of the company, talk to different people and develop networking skills, 'It gives them a higher profile and aids career development.'

'I have actively stopped someone doing a dissertation on the next London Airport and encouraged them to work on projects relevant to what they do at CGI.’ - Tutor

One DA said: 'My CGI Manager didn’t know about the apprenticeships and so did not understand what I needed to do and why.' CGI admits that with circa 5,000 employees in the UK, educating all of them about DAs isn't easy, nor is it yet perfect, but they say it is getting better and add: 'The best thing is when a manager has one apprentice one year and the next year asks for two.'

Until recently HAs studied for a degree in Business Management or Business Management with IT. This was replaced by a new but not dissimilar degree: Business Management for Information Technology - the main change a greater focus on IT. However, as part of an attempt to address the skills gap in IT a second degree, BSc Information Systems with an even greater IT emphasis, has been introduced by CGI. CGI say the degrees will focus on themes that are current and will become more prevalent for them and their clients over the next five years and beyond. Not only did the University of Winchester approve these two new degrees but they bestowed four Commendations upon CGI for: the quality and rigour of their recruitment, selection and widening of participation; the programmes’ industry relevance (the professional assessor described the degrees as ‘astonishing programmes’ meeting the needs of industry); the degree’s work-based learning and teaching strategy, and the extent to which they included student feedback from previous programmes, into the design.

Life beyond the apprenticeship

About 20 percent of sponsored degree students are promoted before graduating.

Former sponsored degree students have gone on to a huge variety of roles,’ with many already carving out very successful careers and winning promotions.

'We can offer an international career and in many different parts of the company. That’s the advantage of a bigger firm. Current HAs are working on an impressively wide range of projects in key growth areas. Many are excited by business intelligence and see a dynamic future in as yet, unmapped areas.’ - CGI executive sponsor

Once qualified, former HAs/grads compete for places on project teams with other similarly qualified staff members. You will continue to learn new skills and to develop your talent. This may involve further professional training if you are good, promotion prospects are good, and not only will your skills be in demand from within the company but from CGI’s competitors too.

Who signs on the dotted line and stays the course?

Two-fifths are female and a third of all females at CGI take the technical BSc Information Systems Management.

'We’re not making it harder to get in but the quality of candidates is improving,’ says a recruitment manager. ‘People are actively seeking out higher apprenticeship opportunities. They are more proactive about their choices, more driven to follow through, and we benefit.' The HAs we met were aged between 18 and 24. Some came directly from school or college, others had had jobs elsewhere. 'For two years I worked in Sainsbury’s chopping up meat and fish then saw an article about higher apprenticeship in the local paper and found CGI as a result,’ said one. A fair number had tried a year at university but found it didn’t suit, citing reasons such as 'we had only four hours’ lectures a week' and 'I am a practical learner. I need to see if something works.'

Though relatively few move away from home, some of those who do find being uprooted from friends and family difficult, with long commutes and constant study after work and at weekends the norm.

'Re-locating can be difficult. Some apprentices get really homesick. We had a girl who was not really that driven and subsequently left.' - CGI

One DA moved 400 miles from home and told us: 'It is challenging. It affects friendships and your relationship with your family.' Another added: 'It is a sudden change. Fortunately my boyfriend is also very career minded and he supported me. We have evolved as a couple.' Some DAs commented that parents can be quite protective at 18 and while CGI staff are supportive they're not going to hold your hand. 'You have to learn resilience, learn how to say no and to cope under pressure,' said one DA.

'I ask myself “am I growing up too fast?” But I know I will have three years of work experience when I finish and that's a huge plus.' - CGI DA

Despite the graft, retention sits at a commendable 90 per cent, broadly in line with university retention rates. Most DAs stay at CGI once their degree is complete. Those who don't may find themselves financially penalised as their contract includes a clause that expects them to stay put for six years. Buy-out costs vary but the company is upfront about these. All are transparently calculated and sympathetic to genuine need to leave.

Pay, perks and play

'Apprentices not only graduate without debt but one shrewd apprentice managed to save £25k by the end of the course and subsequently used it as a deposit on a flat.’ - CGI

You are a fully entitled employee from day one and get a permanent contract, a guaranteed (that is, if all works out well) future career, first-class training and development opportunities and a starting salary of £13,000. Add to that fully paid tuition fees, course resources and accommodation, plus a range of excellent benefits such as a laptop and company phone, 25 days’ annual leave, pension contributions, profit participation plan, share purchase plan, season ticket loan, health and life benefits, member voluntary discounts and a range of other flexible benefits.

DAs are spread out across the company’s business and geography so the CGI team makes an effort to organise social events – cinema trips, clubbing, barbecues, whatever appeals. 'Socialising is bigger and better,’ say DAs. ‘We have less time but more money than university students so we play hard when not working.' For just £5 a month, employees receive discounts on theatre tickets and activities like rock climbing, the Reading Festival, paint balling and Royal Ascot. Other perks include relocation expenses, accommodation expenses and membership of the CGI Sport and Social Club. The CGI football tournament is played out in different countrieseach year. One of the biggest adventures is the UK Challenge. 'It's a corporate event that takes place over several days: running, cycling, canoeing, orienteering type things. We take a team and they're pushed to limits. It's physical and mental, with puzzles to solve and team members to look after.' Those who've taken part say it is an incredible bonding experience, and talk of 'buddy-ropes' and 'motivational speeches.’ If that doesn't grab you maybe activities such as the Million Makers challenge will, think Dragon's Den – pitching a money making idea then, if successful, winning investment to grow the idea for charity.

Higher apprentice or graduate?

'If people are keen and capable they’ll fit in. We encourage them to investigate and develop their own career paths.' - CGI

CGI recruitment remains skewed towards graduates. 'We’ll always require graduates as we can’t predict need all the time. It’s a continuing balance,' says a senior manager. CGI are currently recruiting graduates into specific business areas, all with technical backgrounds. The majority will have a Computer Science or IT degree with specialist skills in java, C++, C#, open source, security or forensics.

Some DAs from the first cohort (2007) commented: 'When the programme first began there was a grads vs undergrads culture but that’s gone now.'

CGI is well aware that former apprentices develop a stronger sense of loyalty and, with a sustained track record of delivering quality work, apprentices represent good value. 'We still have to train them but they work four days a week, so it’s not long before they pay their way,' said a CGI manager.

Apprenticeship insights

'The apprenticeship is ideal for those who want to work in business as you get to try different roles.' - CGI

Most DAs said their schools focused on university and presented it as the only post-18 option. 'Schools want to boast about the number of students who go to university,' was a sentiment echoed by many. It seems that there's hope on the parent front though as one apprentice told us: 'My mum was pleased I swapped uni for an apprenticeship.'

Remarks

This higher apprenticeship/degree programme turns out loyal, graduate employees with a thoroughly professional outlook.

No wonder apprentices are an increasingly important part of the CGI landscape and this scheme attracts ever more erudite youngsters. They are mature beyond their years, but take that as a positive. Most, even on bad days, are excited by the prospect of flexing their work muscles, making a difference and delivering for the company and its clients.

Applying

Is this path for you?

'I liked data modelling at school but didn’t know I could do that for a living.' - CGI apprentice

Want to work in business but not quite sure what will best suit you? This higher IT apprenticeship/degree programme offers an opportunity to sample different roles on a variety of projects, work out what is right for you and earn a degree at the same time.

According to current DAs if you are self motivated, keen, independent, adaptable, willing to learn, hard-working, ambitious and hungry for a career, this is a great opportunity.

Managers say that business, people and proven analytical skills are also key and we'd add exceptional maturity, confidence and an outgoing personality to the list. Even if you have these qualities, think twice about applying if you find change challenging, think 12-hour days plus travel are beyond the pale or you need to stay close to home.

What CGI looks for

The company says it is looking for busy people.

It isn't all about the grades, though applicants must meet the entry threshold. Most have an extensive extracurricular CV, including work experience, sports, charity work or volunteering and CGI looks for ‘ambition, enthusiasm and motivation for self-development.’ For those applying to the technical degree or BSc the company looks for an interest in, or passion for, technology. 'Perhaps they have built their own website, or already code.'

You need

  • 300 UCAS points from three subjects – i.e. equivalent to three Bs at A level (and no lower than a C grade in any one subject) or an Advanced IT Apprenticeship or equivalent
  • A minimum of 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, including English & maths or equivalent
  • Passion for IT: (for the business with IT option), plus a desire to work in business
  • Good oral and written communication skills, self-motivation.

The application process

It's competitive - of around 300 applicants, a third make it to the assessment centre stage and a tenth are subsequently offered a place on the degree/higher IT apprenticeship programme.

You are applying for a job, a degree and a career so it's worth heeding the advice of current DAs, who recommend that you prepare well for each stage of the process. 'Do your research, find out about the company and the job and make sure it really is what you want to do.’

Online application: All applicants for the CGI higher apprenticeship must complete an online application form. The usual tips apply – take care to complete all sections or explain gaps, answer questions fully and check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Telephone interview: Each application form is screened manually by a CGI recruitment adviser. If any questions arise from your application form that need to be answered before being considered for assessment day you will be asked to complete a brief, 20-minute telephone interview. Expect to be asked questions about your application form, so have a copy on hand. Also think about your motivations for applying to the higher IT apprenticeship, such as 'why the apprenticeship route?' and 'why do you want to work for CGI?'

Assessment day: Those who perform well in the initial screen are invited to an assessment day. Staff from both the university and CGI are involved in the selection process. Expect to do an online psychometric (aptitude) test, a written case study exercise, group exercise and presentation and also complete a one to one interview with a CGI manager. The interview will be competency based, which means you’ll be giving examples of when you have been involved with teamwork, faced challenges or been particularly creative in solving a problem. You will also be asked about your motivations for applying to the higher apprenticeship and also what you know about CGI, so ensure you have done your research! You will also have a chance to speak to current and past apprentices and other CGI employees during the day.

Whether successful or not, feedback is given. 'Sometimes we advise them to reapply next year or point to other opportunities elsewhere.’

CGI – what you should know

CGI works with more than 80 per cent of the world's top banks, securely manages the health records of millions of Europeans, prevents more than $1billon of fraudulent transactions annually and handles over 70 million cyber security events daily.

CGI's 68,000 employees provide IT and business process services that facilitate clients' businesses. Working in 40 countries across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, offerings include application management, business consulting, business processing services, IT outsourcing, infrastructure, business intelligence services and systems integration. An exhaustive list of clients includes those in the communications, financial services, government, health, manufacturing, oil and gas, post and logistics, retail and consumer services, transportation and utility sectors.

CGI recently added a higher IT apprenticeship qualification to both of its two sponsored degrees, BA Business Management for Information Technology and BSc Information Systems Management. Entry is increasingly competitive; most recently, 270 applied for 30 places - that's nine applicants per place and rising year on year. The company constantly refines the training and is striving to narrow the gap between academic theory and the reality of the job. CGI shows real commitment to its higher apprentices, supporting them at every turn. Standards are high, the quality and commitment of apprentices excellent.

How do I find out more?

The CGI recruitment team visits schools, runs workshops and attends some career fairs. Vacancies are advertised on external sites such as Not Going To Uni and CGI's own website http://www.cgi-group.co.uk/careers.
 

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