It’s National Apprenticeship Week! It’s no lie that we are huge supporters of the apprenticeship scheme here at OnTrac. Back when our inaugural apprentices first joined our ranks, PR & Comms Manager, Vicki, sat down with both Will and Saul to get to know them a bit better.

Since then, our original apprentices have soared, becoming vital members of the OnTrac team. They’re coming to the final leg of their apprentice journey and it has been a pleasure watching them become confident, capable and innovative professionals – they’re now part of the furniture!

We have also welcomed a third apprentice, Reece, who after a bit of a rocky start, has settled in comfortably with our Rockstar testing team.

This National Apprenticeship Week, Vicki decided once again to sit down with the lads and have a chat about all things apprenticeship related.

National Apprenticeship Week: the interview

What has been your biggest challenge during your apprenticeship?

Saul: my biggest challenge has been finding the role that best suits me. I’m not fully decided on the role I want to take on at OnTrac, but have been given a range of opportunities tackling different aspects of the working environment, including testing, programming, design and also some customer facing tasks, like demos and presentations of apps I’ve created.

Will: my biggest challenge during my apprenticeship was on my first project, when working towards tight deadlines when testing a product for one of OnTrac’s largest clients, Network Rail. I worked with them directly to resolve any issues during user acceptance testing their apps. Although challenging, it gave me valuable experience in interacting with clients directly over the phone, which is something I previously would have been apprehensive about.

Reece: my biggest challenge has been during my exams. I failed my first attempt on my exam, and needed to re-sit. It look a lot of revision every day to guarantee a confident pass in my second attempt.

What has been the biggest highlight of your apprenticeship?

 Saul: being the best at Mario Kart, obviously! Only joking. I have thoroughly enjoyed feeling like part of a team, not only within work but on a social level too. I enjoy coming to work and a major part of that is because of the people I’m surrounded by. Everyone is always up for a laugh and I’ve been made to feel comfortable when communicating with anyone at OnTrac. So, I feel that the highlight of my apprenticeship has been being able to be myself all the time within the workplace.

Will: I have really enjoyed working alongside the development team on the improvement of some of our products. It’s very rewarding to see your hard work being deployed to thousands of users, and to see yourself constantly improving and progressing as a result… The work nights out aren’t bad either!

Reece: the highlight of my apprenticeship so far has been moving over to the testing team. I’m understanding the work a lot better, and getting much more done in the process.

What kind of tasks have you completed / do you complete on a daily basis?

Saul: I’ve been able to work on a number of high priority projects for OnTrac, such as an app delivery project for one of their largest clients. I’ve also worked alongside the company’s app development partner of choice, Nutshell Apps, on their electronic health records app for the global healthcare industry. I’ve also been able to create automated test scripts for OnTrac’s SWP product and recently I have been looking at 3D modelling, as I would like to migrate into the design team.

Will: I have been given the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects during my apprenticeship and have been able to take on a range of roles, including: development, testing and support. The first project that I worked on was to aid in the development of 58 apps for Network Rail. After this, I joined the testing team to gain experience in manual testing and I even wrote some scripts for automation testing. Since then, I’ve been working as part of the development team to help fix bugs and improve our existing apps, which has been both challenging and rewarding.

Reece: as part of the test team, I get involved with testing on a daily basis, through the use of test scripts as well as manual testing. I also ensure that I update my apprenticeship portfolio daily. It’s submitted to Baltic Training and I explain what I have done during a certain period of time, and how many hours I’ve spent on it.

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship, instead of going to university?

Saul: I’ve always thought that experience is one of the most valuable assets a person can possess – and there is no better way of gaining that than going into a company at a young age and getting a feel for the working environment as early as possible. An apprenticeship has allowed me to gain several transferable skills while also allowing me to get a feel for different areas of a company first hand. It has accelerated my communication skills, punctuality and work ethic much more than staying in a sheltered sixth form / university environment.

Will: after completing my A-Levels, I was fed up of just learning theory and memorising textbooks for exams. I really wanted to gain some valuable hands-on experience, and after researching courses, I felt that university would not be able to provide this. I discovered apprenticeships were an alternative to university through a careers event at my school. I realised that a apprenticeship would be a great way to learn something that I was interested in, and apply this knowledge in a practical setting. Also, after I complete my apprenticeship, I will have no student loans to pay off.

Reece: I decided to do an apprenticeship instead of going to university because I was able to get more on the job experience, as well as a better understanding of working in an IT environment. This has helped me a lot, as I know have a better understanding of what it’s like working for a great company like OnTrac.

How have you found your apprenticeship in general/so far?

Saul: I have nothing but positive things to say about the apprenticeship process. I have learned a lot form both my company and course provider and have gained qualifications and experience along the way. I have been given the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone on a variety of occasions and I look forward to more challenges that come my way.

Will: overall, my experience with my apprenticeship has been very positive. Prior to starting work at OnTrac, I had minimal experience working in a professional environment, but quickly settled in due to everyone at the company being really supportive. It has given me the opportunity to kickstart my career at a young age, in an industry I am very passionate about. I believe that I have gained more experience working here than I would have if I’d chosen to go to university.

Reece: I am thoroughly enjoying my apprenticeship with OnTrac so far, and I hope it continues. The environment is very friendly and you’re able to achieve work satisfaction so much more when you have people around you who are willing to help you when you are struggling. The course I’m taking had a rocky start, but I am finally getting through the work at a great pace and getting the support I need to complete the work successfully.

What is it like working for OnTrac? What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned working here?

Saul: working for OnTrac is great for an apprentice like myself who wants to test the waters in several areas of business. There are always new opportunities on the horizon and I have always been given the opportunity to try and better myself and push myself further.

Will: I have thoroughly enjoyed working for OnTrac. Everybody is so friendly and supportive, and I have been given opportunities and responsibilities that I never imagined. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned working here is that your hard work does get noticed and will pay off.

Reece: the biggest lesson I have learned while working at OnTrac is to stick your head down and work to the best of your ability every day. Since working here, I have improved myself as a person and I am finding myself learning new things every day.

 What do you hope to be doing in five years’ time?

 Saul: in five years’ time I want to be the type of employee who is prepared to take on a challenge in any area of the business. I want to know how to code, I want to be able to design an application, but I also want to be able to communicate my ideas and processes to a client. I would like to have good technical knowledge of the company’s products, while also having the ability to meet with people and talk with them confidently.

Will: in five years’ time, I hope to still be working for OnTrac as a backend developer. I think I’d also like to do a higher-level apprenticeship course to further develop my skills as a software developer.

Reece: in five years’ time, I hope to be working for OnTrac as a full time tester and hope to be helping the business improve and grow each year, ensuring that my role within the company helps OnTrac reach the best of its abilities.

Would you recommend the apprenticeship scheme to anyone else? Do you have any advice for people looking to do an apprenticeship?

Saul: I would 100% recommend the apprenticeship scheme to other people. My skills have accelerated much more so than any sixth form could have done. I have always welcomed a challenge, and in an apprenticeship, you have the ability to gain valuable, transferable skills – while being part of real-world projects. I have gained so much experience and knowledge on skills that I will need throughout my working and social life.

Some advice that may benefit others looking for an apprenticeship would be to never rush your search for a job! Always be sure you’re going into a sector you have genuine interest in. everyone works at their own pace, and just because others may be going straight into work at any opportunity, doesn’t mean you have to as well. Look for something that you will enjoy doing, as enjoyment at work is one of the most important things in any job.

Will: I definitely recommend the apprenticeship scheme to anyone looking to actually work on real projects, instead of memorising textbooks. When I was still in school, I was under the impression that if you wanted a good career, university was the best way to go. However, after 18 months of my apprenticeship, I’m very glad I choose this path. I have no regrets about choosing an apprenticeship over university.

I would advise that people who are looking to do an apprenticeship make sure they’re fully aware of all the courses offered, research the job position and choose a course they’ll be passionate in.

Reece: I very much recommend apprenticeships. I thoroughly enjoy working for a big company like OnTrac. My advice to anyone looking for an apprenticeship is to be willing to work hard to reach the best of your ability to find out what you truly want to do in the future. Hard work pays off!

The Apprenticeship scheme: an OnTrac perspective

For most of the OnTrac team – particularly the older ones among us – apprenticeships were an echo of the past; something our parents might have done, but not something that permeated our own education or career choices. Like most of my friends and family, I went to college and attended university. This was advertised to me as The Best Option, throughout my academic career.

Since graduating university (I’ll not go into how many moons ago…) and navigating the world of work, I am confident in stating that while I loved my education and my degree – and did incredibly well – it hasn’t really impacted my career; my career has flourished because of my hobbies, not my academic pursuits.

Looking at how much our apprentices have grown and how much they have learned in what has been a relatively short space of time, is nothing short of inspiring. If I had the opportunity to go back and do it all again, I would certainly opt for an apprenticeship over my academic pursuits, after knowing Saul, Will and Reece and especially following feedback from Saul and Will’s manager, David Smith.

His words only further reiterate the importance, practicalities and nature of the modern apprenticeship sheme:

“Saul and Will have made an incredible contribution to OnTrac throughout their apprenticeship, both arriving at OnTrac with a strong enthusiasm to learn. Not only that, with the correct training and support, they delivered a huge amount of value immediately. Their contribution has since been an essential factor in the success of numerous key projects.”

He continues.

“Throughout their 18 months at OnTrac, Saul and Will have continued to go from strength to strength. The lads have flourished both professionally and personally; it has been a great privilege to see this and it is a testament to their hard work and dedication.

As Saul and Will’s knowledge of software development has grown, they have both been able to explore interests further in a practical ‘real world’ setting – all while earning a great salary. This, in conjunction with their classroom-based sessions, has given them a well-rounded education in the true spirit of an apprenticeship.”

With both Will and Saul’s apprenticeship soon coming to an end, there are a lot of opportunities for the lads to explore within software development, or the other disciplines they’ve been exposed to. However, as David states:

“We are delighted to be offering Saul and Will permanent positions in their areas of interest. Both are valued members of the team and well-liked by all their colleagues.

I would encourage any business considering hiring an apprentice to give candidates an opportunity. We are delighted that we did. The apprenticeship scheme is part of our long-term growth plans and we look forward to working with many talented apprentices in the future.”

The apprenticeship scheme: not just for apprentices

While Saul and Will’s skills have flourished and enhanced OnTrac’s productivity and product delivery over the past few years, it should be said that the contribution of our apprentices to the existing team’s productivity, career progression and our overall company culture has been immeasurable.

Reece is a great example of this. While his apprenticeship did begin on a relatively rocky road, he has settled into his role within the testing team very well and enabled one of the newer members of our team to enhance her own role, by taking him under her management. Chantelle, affectionately known as the ‘testing queen’ spoke highly of Reece:

“Reece is still a new apprentice and is very new to the testing team. He is progressing and improving massively in comparison to when he first joined – which I think comes down to how well he fits into the world of testing. He is more aware, and he uses his training and instincts to decide where to pay more attention when exploratory testing.”

She continues.

“Each week, he’s learning more skills and can write some tests skills independently. The wider testing team has been pleased to watch him grow in confidence too – he’s definitely a welcome addition to the team, and we look forward to watching him continue to become a testing Rockstar under our tutelage!”