Case Study:

Insider Diary: how IBM trains its future leaders

Written by Olivia Smith Tuesday 17 July 2018
This is what life is like for an IBM apprentice
building with IBM logo

Artificial intelligence is the future. Getting a placement at IBM – and especially working with supercomputer Watson – appealed to me. Having knowledge of its capabilities will be invaluable, whatever career path I take.

Read more: You need to know why I chose an apprenticeship over university

When joining the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, I knew I’d get placements at three different companies, which could include IBM: these were pre-set by the University – in my case, Pearson College London.

As I had friends from the scheme working at IBM, I already had an insight into the types of projects the company is working on. In January 2018 I reached out to the early professionals manager to introduce myself and explore the options. As this is my penultimate placement I felt it was important to look for roles that would fill the skills gaps that I am missing.

Read more: Why apprenticeships will create female CEOs

It was decided in May 2018 that I would be working in the Watson Customer Engagement department, and over the following weeks I met with various members of different teams from within IBM, to have an informal interview: my place in the department was guaranteed, but we still needed to find the right area for me.

My biggest goal was to gain more technical knowledge – and in this respect, IBM offers an unparalleled learning environment. My role is in sales support: I am developing my commercial awareness and learning different sales techniques, as well as negotiation.

My placement will link very closely with my degree, as we will be doing a module on big data as well as a research module, which has to be work-based.

Watch: my IBM apprenticeship in action

My first day as an IBM apprentice

On my first day at IBM I was sent to a three-day long residential Technical Fundamentals course. This involved learning binary code, building a Raspberry Pi (simplistic) computer, and researching a presentation on cloud computing and blockchain.

Four weeks in, I have worked with my line manager to make a work plan and set my objectives; I have met with key stakeholders and started to build my network.

So far the biggest challenge has been moving into a completely new sector and a new department. I have little experience with sales, and the technology industry works very differently to the FMCG market I’m used to, meaning I have to adapt to two big changes rather than one.

How to plan a successful degree apprenticeship

There are some great elements of an IBM apprenticeship that other companies could adopt. IBM has a large network of young people including apprentices, interns, graduates and more, meaning there is a lot of support available. The business is well set-up to deal with the needs of people just starting their careers.

IBM offer ‘badges’ to all colleagues, free of charge. These are work-based qualifications given to you to show you are skilled in a certain area. To receive a badge, you must complete a course and pass the test at the end. These are a great way to have a documented record of your skills.

The benefits of an apprenticeship

I see my apprenticeship as a ‘head start’ into the world of work. This placement is proof of that. In my first month, my understanding of Watson and AI capabilities has been completely overhauled.

This apprenticeship placement has given me confidence. Before joining I was very apprehensive about how low my technical skills were, however my confidence in this area has grown significantly in such a short amount of time.

Read more: How one tech CEO best impostor syndrome

I know that I will take my learnings with me and will take a greater interest in the area moving forward.

Find out more about the Chartered Manager degree apprenticeship here.

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