6-12 February marks National Apprenticeship Week in the UK. To join the celebration, I sat down with Mayte Marquez Querol – Leader of the Emerging Talent and Apprentice Incubator, Adele Every – Managing Director for Public Sector at Cisco, and James Reid – VP, Cisco CX EMEA UKI, to discuss how Cisco Apprenticeship empowers people with skills for life.
The theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is “Skills for life”…
Mayte: For me, it’s all about the lifelong learning. Adopting that mindset is the only way to be future-ready.
Adele: It’s also about the practical skills. If I reflect on my experiences, the most profound and helpful one, early in my career, was the placement year I did as I was doing my degree. Being able to apply lots of what you are learning in a course to what actually happens in reality, is really powerful and cannot be underestimated.
James: I believe the Cisco Degree Apprenticeship reflects this theme really well. It gives the early-in-career talent the opportunity to come into an organization and really understand what their passions are, and where they want to focus in the future.
What benefits of running an apprenticeship programme are you seeing as employers?
Mayte: There is a talent war out there! Being able to identify the best talent and incubate it in line with the company’s culture and values is priceless. Degrees are expensive and not everyone can afford them, regardless of how talented they are. Degree Apprenticeships, like the one we offer at Cisco, allow people to get a degree whilst working – and us, as employers, to reach the talent pool we might not have otherwise reached. We enhance our diversity, and it’s important for so many reasons, one of them being relevance for our customers. We need to match our customer base, and to stay relevant to them – we must evolve. I am proud to share that almost half of our apprentices are female, and it’s such a great progress considering our industry has traditionally been more male-dominated.
James: I think creating a programme that gives people a chance to explore the industry and to try different roles is what allowed us to attract more diverse talent into the organization. At the same time, diverse talent forces us to evolve our own culture. Every new cohort of apprentices challenges us to think, behave, and manage differently, and that encourages us to be better at what we do. I think any company that doesn’t have an apprenticeship scheme is missing a massive opportunity to evolve their own organization.
Adele: Apprentices are challenging us as well because they are so passionate about the communities they live in and about making an impact. They are also great at connecting and communicating across the company, and we benefit massively from their sense of community. This is, of course, enhanced by the fact they can rotate and experience different areas of the business. Equally, I think the apprenticeship scheme is a part of our messaging for winning business! A great example is the work we are doing in Manchester to completely transform citizen services – it’s such a fantastic story for Cisco, our partners, and of course – the region!
James: Bringing apprentices into the Greater Manchester area was a key part of the reasons why we were chosen to work on that project. The customer was very keen to ensure that we could increase the digital knowledge within the area, so as part of that partnership, we agreed to increase the size of the apprenticeship hub in Manchester and to actively include apprentices in the project. The benefits of this are countless! We are bringing a new skill set to Manchester, enabling apprentices to work with a local customer, and get directly involved in a local project. This means they see the direct impact and contribution they make to their local community. Projects like this give us a great win-win.
We talk a lot about early-in-career talent, but apprenticeships are not only for those starting their professional journey…
James: Some of our apprentices who joined the programme already had a career and were looking for a new skill set or a new direction. This really gives us the ability to look at a cross-section of different talent opportunities for different ages as well.
Mayte: We are on a mission to develop next-generation talent, regardless of the age of the apprentices. And it’s not only for Cisco’s benefit – we want to make a bigger difference! That’s why we are about to launch the Tech Talent Accelerator, which will enable us to upskill and reskill many people in our partner ecosystem.
James: Yes, we are very lucky in the UK – the government allows us to extend our funding to partners. It’s a great opportunity, allowing us to magnify the influence we have in our industry and community. This is just a manifestation of our continued support and commitment to making our partners successful. It’s going to be a game changer for the way we bring talent into the industry and into the channels of Cisco.
Adele: Not to mention the fact this strengthens the loyalty and partnership within our ecosystem. It’s massively powerful, especially since we rely on our partner community so much!
What’s next for the programme in the UK?
James: We are hiring a manager in Manchester, and are looking to increase the population of apprentices there. Every year we are looking for new candidates to come in to bolster our apprentice programme. Of course, it requires a buy-in from the Senior Leadership across the organization, especially if you deliver cross-functional apprenticeship like ours, so I am very pleased our programme is so widely recognized and appreciated.
Adele: We bring cohorts to regions where we are seeing investment and opportunities, and of course, we hope we’ll continue to see lots of both in the Northwest. We believe that our way of adding value to our customers, partners, and communities is getting traction across other regions in the UK, and so where we see that demand, we will look to populate with fresh talent through the apprenticeship programme. For such a programme to be successful, I think, the key ingredient is purpose. When you establish that community with a purpose, apprentices feel they belong to the organization and really make an impact. It’s massively important.