#AskAnApprentice 2020

At GRI we are extremely proud to be part of the national apprenticeship scheme, which has seen seven talented individuals progress within our company. 

As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2020, we have joined Twitter’s #AskAnApprentice campaign by putting the most frequently asked questions to one of our very first apprentices  – Mike McDowell.

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What do you do at GRI and how long have you been here?
I have been working at GRI since March 2015, so coming up to five years. In my current role as Data Engineer, I am responsible for maintaining the integrity of the data held by our business. I also look after all reporting requirements for our clients and the internal operations team – from the complex to the day-to-day.

How has your role changed?
As you can imagine, my role has evolved and grown a great deal over the past four years. I joined GRI as an IT Apprentice which involved supporting the Infrastructure team with internal IT queries - being the first point of contact for almost 200 employees. In effect I was the IT helpdesk. It was a brilliant first job as I had lots of exposure to different people and difficult and time critical situations that. I think a lot of people think that apprentices end up stuck in the first role they take on within an organisation or that you can’t really progress past a junior position. This is just not the case. Over the years I have taken on more responsibilities and been promoted twice. After completing my apprenticeship in 2017, I was offered a permanent position in the QA team where I played a key role in the redevelopment of GRI’s technology platform, e-tips® - a multi-million-pound project. My main job as Software Tester was to ensure the new system was fully operational before it was released. I also worked on the migration of client accounts  to the new system. Later, in 2019, an opportunity presented itself in the Data Engineering team – I applied for the position and was successful. My current role is to support business intelligence activities, which so far has involved building a new data warehouse and writing reports for our clients and internal operations team. I also mentor the newest member of our team, Ryan, which in turn has really built my confidence and I hope I’ve been able to put into practice lots of the best bits that I remember from when people were mentoring me On top of this, I’m in my first year studying for a BSc in Data Science at York St John University – it’s a Degree Apprenticeship, which means I can continue working whilst I study part-time. 

What is your greatest achievement to date?
I am proud to have played such an important role in the e-tips® upgrade project. My team successfully migrated over 130 client accounts to the new system – a huge achievement. 

Have there been challenges?
Yes, absolutely. The first year was a really steep learning curve especially as the role quickly became more stand-alone and self-managed, but I gained so much experience in the early days with the support of my team and course tutor. I often look back to this time as a real foundation for where I am now.

Why did you decide to take part in the apprenticeship scheme?
As a school leaver, I knew what I wanted to do for work, and university wasn't for me, so I started a job at a software company as soon as I finished my A-Levels. But I quickly realised there was no potential for me to develop professionally in the role, so I decided to look for a formal  apprenticeship in IT. GRI’s scheme offered me the chance to ‘earn and learn’, with an opportunity to progress and a permanent employment contract. 

What did you enjoy about being an apprentice?
I appreciated the fact I could  gain experience while working, bringing in a salary and completing a nationally recognised qualification (NVQ). The apprenticeship route has enabled me to progress far more quickly than I would have done if I hadn’t continued with my studies – I only wish I had started my journey with GRI sooner. 

Any advice?
If you’re considering starting an apprenticeship just go for it. University isn’t for everyone but if you have an idea about what area of work you want to go into, an apprenticeship is a great place to start. Research the course and the company and you will make the right decision for you. 

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