The following post is a Q&A interview with one of the winners from the Microsoft Apprentice of the Year 2014 awards. Kimberley Bolton, a Firebrand apprentice is the first female to win the award and what's even more impressive, she was new to IT just a year ago. Starting out in the industry at 19 with no knowledge, she is now a Junior Support Consultant at Pythagoras managing their Microsoft Dynamics CRM system.
The Microsoft Apprentice of the Year Awards enable the achievements of those involved in Microsoft-backed apprenticeships to be recognized. This includes vital contributions to Microsoft’s wider Get On programme goal of helping 300,000 young people move a step close to work over a three year period. Young people gain job-specific skills including Microsoft certifications whilst earning a wage at a Microsoft Partner business.
Kimberley kindly took the time to go through the reasoning behind why she joined the apprenticeship program and what she took from it.
What made you decide to become an apprentice?
Whilst at college I began a part time job in a Chinese take-away. At this stage I was unhappy with the hours and the journey’s to and from college, so I decided to q uit and work full-time in the Chinese. This gave me a chance to work hard and earn some money although it did not fulfill my desire to earn further qualifications.
I began investigating my possibilities and my nan mentioned apprenticeships, I had heard of them as some of my friends were completing some. As I didn’t drive the limiting factor for me was to have one near my location in Maidenhead, so I began applying for a range of different vacancies in different sectors. When I found one at Pythagoras Communications Ltd right near my address I was over the moon and by now keen to complete an apprenticeship. The idea of being paid to work whilst also attending free training, and gaining further qualifications thrilled me.
In one of my interviews the Managing Director Julian mentioned they wanted someone to keep on after the apprenticeship which interested me even more, knowing I would be working for the year towards a full time job which would lead to an exciting career. The key thing is in the end I would be working towards not just a job but a career.
University was never really an option for me as I believe 4 years would be too much of my life and I would owe a huge sum of money. With my apprenticeship I was able to stay close to family and friends and have them around to support me, which they have done amazingly!
Can you tell us how the process works – for example did you choose to be a support consultant or were you selected for that role?
Whilst in the process of interviews I was unsure exactly what my role would include, although I was always told I would be employed as a Junior Support Consultant. Originally I had queried whether my role could include administration work as well as IT based work however we needed to fit the working day in with my coursework which means I stuck with IT based work. This meant I had experience in both the CRM side but also Internal IT which was great exposure. In the end I have ended up covering administration work on the support desk which I really enjoy, so the support consultant role has fitted me perfectly.
What are the key stand out experiences you’ve had since you became an apprentice?
There have been a number of standout experiences, of course the awards ceremony being the main one. Other experiences have included, working from the London office, social events such as Go-Karting and the Christmas party. Getting to work alongside some interesting and very clever colleagues has also stood out.
What difference has it made to you and what specifically do you think contributed to that change?
Specifically as a person I have grown hugely in confidence, self-worth, and general life knowledge. I have grown hugely, I believe into a better person. Specifically what contributed to this change was the people around me. I became friends with a huge variety of people from different walks of life and different countries. I have learnt to integrate amongst different people and use this to my advantage. Through this alongside some strong qualifications I believe I have secured a fruitful future in the IT industry and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
What’s the key thing you’ve learned?
Since starting my apprenticeship the key thing I have learned is to be as friendly as possible. People around me are often there to help and will do if asked. I have also learned to be more confident in myself and working late and studying definitely pays off! Through this Microsoft Apprentice of the Year award I have learnt to keep pushing myself and work hard as people may be more proud of you than you think. I become a valued member of the team through listening and learning. Repeating processes to ensure I had learnt them was a big step
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Continuing with the apprenticeship after failing an exam twice and being told, possibly this isn’t the right career choice. I became very upset and had a tough time deciding whether I thought I would be able to continue and pass the apprenticeship. Once I realized this is exactly what I wanted and with the help of my colleagues and mentors I pushed myself to overcome my self-doubt and thankfully so, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my team for helping me so much. Each person, in fact most of the people in the company have helped me some way or another. A number of individuals gave up their free time to help me learn more and I can’t thank them enough. As I was their first ever apprentice it’s admirable how much they invested in me and helping me pass. I’m proud of how the team has come together and as a result we work efficiently and closely.
We are still growing and improving but I believe I’ve only got to where I am today because of them. I’m also proud of myself for pushing through a hard year and having the confidence to continue and finally I am proud of Firebrand for receiving the recognition they deserve along with Pythagoras Communications Ltd at the Microsoft Apprentice of The Year Awards.
What would you say to anyone who was sitting on the fence about becoming an apprentice?
Look into it. Check that you will be able to handle working long hours, in a real working environment which is tougher than you’d think. Once you begin looking researching the training provider, as for me in particular I needed them the whole way through the process. For me my apprenticeship is the best thing I have ever done and I would highly recommend to people to do them. I have a large number of friends who have now finished or are soon finishing apprenticeships and they are the perfect way to get into a full time role. You not only gain qualifications or a job but great personal skills which can be used in many environments.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently employed full time on the support desk, which I hope to do for at least another few years. I would like to gain some more qualifications this time in the product I work with MSCRM. I hope to be driving and have my own place in the next 5 years which means I am eager to work harder and keep progressing in my career choice. Once I am driving I would like to look into the consultancy route, which could mean a higher salary and more out of the office work, meeting customers face to face.
Hear from Microsoft UK's Managing Director and some of the other winners at the event: