The Workshop, one of Sheffield’s longest established and most successful interactive media and learning technology companies, has bucked the industry trend and employed an apprentice programmer straight from school, working with The Sheffield College.

Director Mark Pearce comments, “We’ve always taken graduates in the past, but I’ve been involved with apprenticeships in another business and that’s exposed me to a lot of youngsters with talent, drive and focus. That’s what we recognised in Jack – he’s really passionate about coding and that’s what he wants to do.”

Sixteen-year-old Jack Buss started an apprenticeship at The Workshop in August 2018. He originally came to The Workshop on a two-week work experience from King Edward VII School aged 14 and made an immediate impression.

Jack says, “I started coding in school when I was 12. I made my first website in Year 7, an HTML website. I did the placement with The Workshop in Year 10 and they offered me an apprenticeship half-way through. Talking to people who knew the company, I realised what a valuable opportunity that was going to be.”

The Workshop has developed a bespoke arrangement with The Sheffield College to fast track Jack through to a degree apprenticeship using the College’s new Software Developer Level 4 Apprenticeship. The new apprenticeship, which is equivalent to the first year of a degree programme, was developed in collaboration with Sheffield Digital, the tech sector employer association, as well as a group of local employers. The College has worked with the British Computer Society and Oracle on the qualification elements. Jack goes to the College every Wednesday afternoon and is currently taking an Oracle Java course.

Mark says, “There’s real benefit for us because there’s huge competition for talent now, so this gives us an alternative recruitment route.

“There’s also a cost saving. It would cost us twice as much to take on a fully-formed, experienced graduate. When Jack came to us on work experience, we helped him to build a real-world website for his school project, and it helped us realise that if we employed him as an apprentice he would be productive from the outset. He might undertake fairly low-level tasks to start with, but we could actually bill him to clients. For us, it’s a lower risk way of developing and nurturing young talent.”

Just a few months in to his apprenticeship, Jack is already doing web development for clients and also helps with The Workshop’s network, providing technical support for anyone who needs it. In between billable work, he does development on The Workshop’s own learning platform, helping to move it to a different development environment.

Jack’s ambition is to become a back-end developer as he explains: “I always wanted to be a programmer and make things work. I do front-end and back-end development, but the back-end is about making things work as they should, so that’s what I like best. The feeling of making something work is very satisfying.”

Jack feels he’s on the right track with his apprenticeship: “I like it because I’m setting off into the real world two years ahead of those who go to sixth form or college. I’m making money and at the same time getting experience and qualifications.”

Mark is also pleased with the arrangement, stressing that it does depend on the quality of the individual: “As with all employees, they have to fit the role that you’re trying to recruit into, as well as fit into the team. It’s about personality and mindset, passion and enthusiasm for the particular role, and Jack’s got that in spades. Seeing Jack on the two-week work experience, we were able to spot his talent and how he would fit in.

“It’s been good working with the College. Now there is a route for school students on work placements to move straight from school into an apprenticeship, giving employers a fresh talent stream.”

To discuss how an apprenticeship would work in your organisation, contact Steve Stocks, the specialist in digital apprenticeships at The Sheffield College, on email: stephen.stocks@sheffcol.ac.uk