Foundation Apprenticeships - Supporting Secondary Schools Software Education

The Importance of Supporting Schools to Teach Software

Article Written by Stewart Gray  -  19/09/2019

When I first started Kaber Helm, one of the things I set out to do was create an environment of passionate learners who enjoyed problem-solving and thinking outside of the box! Not long after we opened our doors, Fife council offered us an opportunity to expand on this aim...

To kick this article off, I want to address something that I believe affects every industry in some shape or form, skills shortages! I 'm sure we've all heard this or are familiar with the concept - not enough trained individuals to effectively satisfy demand, essentially. 


When it comes to software development and programming, mentioning the skills shortage seems to be and "in" thing.  However, when I set out to recruit new team memebers I seem to be bombarded with a plentiful supply of CVs.  At this point, the question becomes how many of these CVs met my requirements, and as expected there were some interesting & ultimately qualified applicants, but there is a disconnect between qualification curriculum & the workplace that can be felt while gauging our candidates' attitudes, aptitudes, and adaptability. Though this may be normal in some industries, my fear is the increased growth of the software industry year on year will produce a rift in programmatic quality. 


We believe there is a skill shortage in the software industry currently - especially when it comes to some of the more specialized technologies out there - but some of the more generic technologies are being underutilized by those training to use them professionally, and that becomes a problem.  My prediction is that the software skills shortage is set to get worse before getting better - but great things take time!

Lukasz Humeniuk Before he Worked at the Helm

Probably the best Picture We Have of Owen...

At the end of 2017, we were approached by Fife Council in regards to a new scheme they were supporting from Skills Development Scotland (SDS), this scheme was the foundation apprenticeship programme. At the time, Fife council had been struggling to find partners who could support the software development course - within Fife anyway! Initially, our thoughts had wavered back and forth between the opportunity to support our local council and the students who were interested in our industry and balancing the client work we had to complete... bearing in mind we started this having only 2 full-time staff members.


In the end, we decided to help for many reasons, one of which was to get closer to the pulse of what is in the software development curriculum, to see how it compared to our findings in the business market. Aside from this, we wanted to focus on becoming a supporting member of educational bodies in our local area, especially regarding software and digital technology! 


Soon after the turn of 2018, we met our first Foundation Apprentices, Owen Halshaw & Lukasz Humeniuk - who ended up joining team KH when he completed 6th year! Though we have covered each of these in more depth in their respective stories, some of the important learning curves and observations we made at the time are ultimately relevant. Having Owen and Lukasz onsite gave them their first legitimate exposure to project planning, progressing tracking and even actively thinking about processes and the power of asking "Why?" Understanding these concepts and practices is one thing, knowing how to take action and bring it all to life is the other half.


One of the other things that we addressed when Owen and Lukasz were onsite was the choice in programming languages used by schools. For teaching purposes, such as writing code in the correct syntax and writing procedural methods, these languages were perfect, looking to more functional needs in the consumer world, these languages weren't the most adequate, that said one of the first things James got into with each of our apprentices was teaching them C# - which with James' support, we're happy to report was picked up by all apprentices really quickly! This armed them up ready to take on some real work.

Stephen Joined us in The Summer of 2019

Throughout the year we have 3 week-long sessions with each of the apprentices, usually within their holiday periods. This allowed us to build on their new knowledge of C# and project planning and reporting at each stage of their apprenticeship. One of our main aims with taking on the apprenticeships was just to give the students a taste of the operations that go on in real businesses - because let's face it, schools aren't structured anywhere near companies within the business world, not as far as the students' lives go anyway. 


One of the benefits we took internally from these visits was to simplify terms and explanations and alter some of our planning documentation to have a few more questions on them, ones raised by the apprentices which helped to give a fuller picture of what they were being asked to do. It's easy when you know what you're doing, I suppose, but an extra level of clarification on some items isn't a bad thing! 

Another opportunity that was sparked by our initial apprentices was our introduction to Fife board for Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), Who hosted a breakfast which we went to and wrote a news story about! Through that breakfast, we identified opportunities to support other local high schools in the Fife area with workshops and other methods of engaging them as we share our knowledge - another opportunity we have been absolutely grateful for! These workshops are more focussed around the current SDS curriculum and help explain to students real-world applications of the concepts they're learning. The gap between the introduction to these features and business cases for using them is huge, but understanding the power the can give a business or a person can help open their eyes! 


Now we're in 2019 and have a clearer view of the importance of the foundation apprenticeships, we jumped at the opportunity to be a provider for software education once again - and we've already signed up for 2020! So far this year, we have had the privilege of hosting both Stephen and Kyle through the same journey, definitely a bit smoother now we have a better idea of the gaps and the more important pieces. I think having Lukasz on the team now gives our apprentices the confidence that their apprenticeships will contribute to their experience and helping them seek employment at the end of it... Unless they're continuing with education!

Coming up for the end of our second year in this programme and I think it's fair to say it has been a rewarding experience for everyone involved. One of the greatest rewards to ourselves has been the ability to knowledge share with students trying to decide what they want to do with their working and professional lives. With any luck, we have managed to inspire some of these students and strengthened their interest and drive to be apart of the software development community when they leave school.


With 2019 drawing to a close, our apprentices for the year have almost completed their placements and we will be preparing for 2020! We are still supporting Schools in Fife and the local area throughout this year, with an eye to expanding our reach next year! I urge anyone who can support apprentices near them to do so, the knowledge and know-how are priceless, the exposure to a working environment seems to be a real eye-opener (according to the students) and the engagement is the proof we want our young workers to succeed and do well!

Kyle Peter - Our Latest Foundation Apprentice

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