In our series of Tech Industry Gold Degree Apprenticeship case studies, we caught up with James Grainger who has completed his studies and gained a first-class honours degree at Manchester Metropolitan University whilst working for Lloyds Banking Group.
What has been the best experience of your Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?
I have two examples of the best experience of the Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship. Firstly, a Business Trip to India and secondly, presenting to the chairman of Lloyds Banking Group.
As part of a high profile project, I was given the opportunity to travel to Hyderabad for two weeks to help with the technical delivery and integrate our ways of working through agile practises. Having worked extremely hard on the project, I was put forward as the only engineer to take this trip along with two other project managers. This business trip was a real eye-opener for me. I never thought at 20 years of age, I would have been flying to another country to help deliver a project. The experience was breath-taking. On weekends, I was able to explore the area and really get to understand and appreciate the culture and colourful surroundings.
My second example, was when I presented to the chairman of Lloyds Banking Group, Lord Blackwell. This presentation aimed to raise awareness and share my experience on the degree apprenticeship. Just being in the same room as several very senior colleagues as well as the chairman, was very surreal.
What has been/was the most challenging experience of your Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?
Some challenges have occurred along this journey, such as technical implementations not going as planned, presentations not running as well as they could have, being rejected for internal promotions, etc. But all of this is natural and expected to happen.
As an apprentice, you are bound to make mistakes due to inexperience but the key is to learn from that so that it doesn’t happen again in the future. I have learned to always give and receive feedback as this shows that you are keen to develop, but also gives you areas for improvement so that you can continuously improve and become more efficient. However, working and studying can be a challenge especially when deadlines approach at the same time for both projects and assignments. There is never any need to panic, as at Lloyds Banking Group the management are always happy to provide support and give the odd day here and there to enable you to complete your work.
What would you say now, to yourself, before you enrolled on your degree apprenticeship?
My professional career started with me taking a leap of faith on the BSc Degree apprenticeship as I didn’t know what to expect. I had just left school and I was really nervous to start working in a professional environment. However, I have always been passionate about IT and I knew that this apprenticeship was for me. I think what attracted me specifically to this apprenticeship was the ability to get hands-on experience in an extremely large and diverse organisation, whilst also gaining a qualification. The fact that the degree I was getting was debt-free wasn’t what drew me in, it was the thought of developing my skills and learning ways of working that I have never heard of or seen before. For someone who was really eager to have a career in IT, I knew that understanding the culture of a large organisation was vital.
What would you say to anyone considering a Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship?
I think my main message that I have used time and time again at fairs and on presentations, is that people assume ‘apprentice’ means someone young and fresh out of school but there are apprentices of all ages on this scheme. This apprenticeship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone of any age who is looking to get some hands-on experience in a digital environment and a foot in the door to a great organisation. My time on the BSc degree apprenticeship has taken a young, inexperienced, and nervous individual and transformed them into a well organised, technical, and confident engineer who is ready to step into an engineering role and deliver high-quality work. With this in mind, I think the point is don’t be afraid if you know nothing about the world of IT or digital technology. The point of an apprenticeship is to learn and discover new skills and opportunities. Something that this scheme has in abundance.
What is your current role? What is your typical day?
I am currently a Data Engineer within the Chief Data Office at Lloyds Banking Group. My main responsibilities are to build sophisticated data solutions to key business areas throughout the bank, whilst producing and distributing Business Intelligence (BI) to enable more data-led decisions and help the bank achieve its ambition to be a truly data-driven organisation. I have worked on a high-profile portfolio and regulatory projects that have given me great exposure and many opportunities to work with some fantastic colleagues and cutting-edge technology. I regularly use languages such as SQL and Python and have the pleasure of working with cloud-based technologies and Machine Learning (ML) concepts.
What are your career plans?
Once I have completed the MSc apprenticeship, my aspirations are to become more senior within my team. I always make sure I have a 3, 5, and 10-year plan to keep my development plan in sync with my aspirations – which of course can change as I grow. But I think, for now, my real aim is to become a senior engineer who helps share knowledge amongst the team, being seen as a role model to other engineers who can lead colleagues/teams to great success whilst keeping the best practice aligned to Lloyds Banking Group’s values and behaviours.
Anything else to add?
When I look at the way the digital world is evolving, data and analytics are becoming increasingly demanded and important across every sector and industry. Engineering insight from data and providing key analysis to help inform better decision-making is something that I have always found motivating. This is why it was an easy choice for me to on-board onto the Data Analytics pathway on the apprenticeship. Fast forward to four years later and I can proudly say I have obtained a first-class honours degree. But the fun doesn’t stop there… I have decided to continue my studies by enrolling on the MSc degree apprenticeship where I will complete another two years in Advanced Data Analytics.
The support has been absolutely fantastic during my time so far. From a Lloyds Banking Group perspective, I have had endless opportunities to apply what I learn in class to my everyday duties, attend training workshops to help further my knowledge in technical areas such as Python and provide me with a platform where I can develop and build my confidence in presenting and networking to stakeholders. The team of coaches at Manchester Metropolitan University has been with me all along the journey from the start to the end.
Overall, I owe a lot to both the university and Lloyds Banking Group, as they have really helped me mature and develop into a well-established and efficient professional. I would not have thought in a million years I would be where I am today. Whilst four years seems like a lot to someone so young, the time certainly does fly. What’s that saying… time flies when you’re having fun?
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