Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Digital apprenticeships at Veolia – a fast track to success



Emma Wilcox hadn’t thought about doing an apprenticeship when she started working as a project assistant in Veolia’s Learning & Development Team. It was while working on a project about training needs analysis that she discovered how the company’s apprenticeship levy funds could be used to support all staff – both new hires and existing employees – to improve their skills in ways that would help the business grow.

‘I thought apprenticeships were more for younger people, and more aimed at manual work. I didn’t know apprenticeships like this existed’ said Emma, who joined Veolia after completing her degree in Business Management. ‘I hadn’t really thought about jobs I wanted to do before I joined Veolia, but if I’d known about data analysis when I was looking for a job, I know I’d definitely have wanted to do it’.

Business knowledge is key to success


Emma moved out of the Learning & Development Team shortly after starting her Level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeship and now works in the Power BI Team, which works with departments across the business to create analysis models and reports, as well as integrating new systems with Power BI to collate and analyse data collected. Being in a central team has given her a lot of insight into activities across the business and allowed her to help effect some real improvements to everyday business activities – not least in her former department.

‘One of the first projects I led in my new role was improving the state of the data in the People Development department, automating the collection of different sorts of data and linking it together to make recommendations that support people better’ Emma explains. ‘It was mostly starting from scratch, not just making amends to current systems, so I’ve been able to see the full progress of the project. And because I used to work in the department, where there’s been an issue I’ve known what to do to fix it.’ 

An immersive training experience


Emma’s Data Analyst apprenticeship allows her to gain formal training in key tools and techniques (such as data preparation and cleansing, analysis techniques and learning to use products like Power BI and Microsoft SQL) alongside her day job, so she can put her learning into practice as she goes along. ‘When I interviewed for my current job, the date clashed with my Power BI course, so I asked if I could attend after it finished. It was really helpful to go to the interview knowing all about the product for the team I was joining!’

The training for digital apprentices is delivered in blocks of several days on a residential basis, so Emma stays at the training centre while completing training on each skillset. ‘Staying at the training centre means you’re free from all distractions. Yes, it’s been a bit tricky arranging childcare (for residential training visits), but when I’m at home or work, I’ve got things to do! Having the time away means I can learn it all properly.’

Away from the training centre, digital apprentices at Veolia attend web-based live learning sessions with subject matter experts, as well as online courses provided by Pluralsight. ‘It’s a great backup tool for making sure you retain knowledge’ says Emma ‘I set myself targets of completing a certain number of hours on Pluralsight every week, just to make sure I’m hanging on to what I’ve learned and expanding on it too.’ 

Learning never stops


Being an apprentice in a technically-focused team has made every day a learning day for Emma. ‘Just sitting next to people in the IT department, I’m learning about technical terms and job roles I’d never heard of before. (Being in my current team) I’ve got the chance to get involved with all kinds of stuff that Veolia does – I was in a conference call the other day hearing about the development of intelligent bins that let you know when it’s time for them to be emptied!’

Overall, Emma feels the apprenticeship’s combination of formal training and learning on the job has helped her learn faster than any other training route. ‘The apprenticeship’s been a quicker way to get the skills I needed and demonstrate those skills. I could have gone home and tried to learn the technical stuff on my own, but I couldn’t have shown that learning to an employer – the apprenticeship allows me to demonstrate and prove my knowledge. I also couldn’t have got so much experience within the same timeline without doing the apprenticeship.’ 

Reaping the rewards


Emma’s work as an apprentice so impressed her manager that she was nominated from 300 current apprentices as one of Veolia’s 25 finalists for the Apprentice of the Year Awards, which rewards excellence in four key categories – Commitment to Learning, Success in STEM, Living The Values and Excellence in Business. All finalists were invited to attend a reception at the Houses of Parliament, which was attended by MP Barry Sheerman and Gavin Graveson, Executive Vice-President for Veolia UK. ‘It was a wonderful surprise to be nominated’ said Emma, ‘and a great experience to come to the House of Commons with the other apprentices.’ 

Emma Wilcox (left) and Lisa Walker, Apprenticeships Marketing Manager
at Firebrand, (Right) at the Houses of Parliament


Are apprenticeships right for you?

Emma’s top tips for people thinking about an apprenticeship:

  • Don’t think of it as for school-leavers. Apprenticeship training is a professional commitment and the training you get’s aimed at professionals.
  • Make sure you think about the end goal – what do you want to get out of doing the training and where is it you want to get to in your career?
  • Be ready to manage and review your learning yourself. Your training provider will help with this, but you’ll understand what you’ve got to do much better if you look at how the requirements map to what you’re doing at work so you can see how certain aspects of learning should be demonstrated. It’s your career, and to get the best out of the apprenticeship you have to own it!

Firebrand is working with Veolia and many other employers to develop the next generation of digital talent. To find out more about how we can support your business’ digital aspirations, get in touch.