Callum Gunston, Quicksilva degree apprentice
Callum Gunston, 19, has just started his Tech Industry Gold degree apprenticeship at Quicksilva, an independent Wiltshire-based supplier of systems integration and messaging services that specialises in healthcare technology. Here, he tells the Tech Partnership about his route into the role.
How did you find out about Quicksilva?
I actually came here for the first time in Year 10 at school, when I was about 15. I did a week’s work experience, and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t hesitate when they asked me back. Over the rest of my time at school, I regularly came back to work during holidays, and got to know the firm and people very well. It feels almost like family here.
And you planned to study Computer Science at university?
Yes, I did A-levels in Computing, Business Studies and Maths, and had an offer to go to UWE (University of the West of England) to study computer science. But then Quicksilva approached me to see if I’d be interested in a degree apprenticeship, and I jumped at the chance. It’s a brand new programme so they needed to work with Winchester University to make sure everything would fit together, but as soon as everything was confirmed I was very happy to sign up.
What was the appeal of the degree apprenticeship for you?
I felt it was a really effective way to learn – the fact that you learn a new skill, and then get to use it right away at work, fixes the learning in your mind. Everything you learn is relevant to your job. The chance to do a degree without ending up with student debt is very attractive: not only do I not pay any fees, but I’m earning a salary, so I won’t have to get into debt to pay my living costs.
How’s it going to work in practical terms? Talk us through your week.
I’ll be spending Mondays studying at Winchester – it’s a full day, 9 – 6, of lectures and seminars. Then the remainder of the week I’ll be working at Quicksilva’s offices in Kington Langley. I’m expecting to do some extra study in the evenings and weekends too, so every day will be packed. The terms will be longer than standard university terms, as we have a lot to get through – the plan is to complete the BSc in four years, so only one year longer than a full time degree.
Do you feel you’re getting a university experience as well as your work experience?
Yes definitely – there’s a group of us doing the course together, so we can share experiences and work together. The university is making sure we get the full academic experience and exactly the same will be expected of us as any other student – we’ll be writing essays and keeping a reflective journal of our learning. I’ve found my first weeks at Winchester really interesting and engaging and I’m keen to dive in and learn more.
How will that fit with the needs of the business?
Quicksilva’s developed a structured training plan for me that matches what I’m learning at university – I’ll be moving round the different departments in sync with my modules. For instance, I’m currently studying Information Systems and Software Testing, and am working in the IT support function. This means that I have a chance to put what I’m learning into practice right away. Quicksilva’s been very supportive and my line manager has worked hard to make sure there’s a close fit between my work and my study topics.
Lots of your friends must be at university now – do you ever envy them?
No, not at all – they’re getting their degrees in a traditional way, and I’m getting mine in a modern way. I feel that this is how it’s going to be in the future: learning what employers actually need you to know. I’m putting in a lot of work, but I think it’ll be worth it – I’m doing exactly what I want to do.
And what do your parents think?
They’re backing me 100% – they see that it’s a good deal for both sides, with me getting a job and an education, and the company getting my developing skills and enthusiasm. Plus I think my mum likes having me at home!
What would you say to anyone else considering a degree apprenticeship?
I was almost suspicious when I heard about the scheme – it seemed so good, I wondered what the catch was. But there is no catch – it’s a true win-win. So I’d definitely encourage them: it will put you in a very competitive position when it comes to future employment. You need to be motivated – it is demanding and you have to balance your priorities – but you learn so much and come out with an excellent qualification and work experience too. While you may not be guaranteed a job with your current employer at the end of the programme, you’ll be at the front of the queue, as your skills will be in line with what they need and they’ll know all about your abilities.
You need to look for a good employer. I’ve been very lucky with Quicksilva – it’s a great place: friendly, hardworking, promotes innovation and creativity and rewards you for working hard. I’ve got a dream job doing exactly what I want.