Meet Grace, a data science degree apprentice who joined IBM when she was 18.
Grace speaks about her apprenticeship experience at IBM, doing something different from her friends, and her advice to future apprentices. 

Meet the experts

What has your apprenticeship journey looked like so far?

“I joined IBM at 18 straight from school and I’ve been here for just over five years. I’m on my second apprenticeship now. I originally did my Level 4 apprenticeship in junior management consultancy for three years, then I had a year’s break before I became a data science degree apprentice. Now, I’m in my final year.

“For the study side of the apprenticeship, I’m doing my degree at the University of Winchester. I work four days a week and I'm at uni one day a week. I complete various modules and then bring back the skills and learning from the degree to help my day-to-day work. I’m in a client-facing role at IBM, so the clients I work with also get to benefit from my learning too.”

How did you first come across the opportunity for the apprenticeship?

“I did a lot of online research. I applied to various places when I was looking for apprenticeships. IBM is a company that I've known about since I was small because I grew up near its head office. I was quite fortunate at school I did quite a lot of work experience with different companies and got to know about the various apprenticeships they offered.”


Jenny, head of apprenticeships at IBM

“A lot of apprentices join us thinking university's not for me, which is absolutely fine. You also don't have to do a degree apprenticeship, there are other levels too. Once you’re at IBM, it’s less about qualifications and more about how you perform on the job. I could point you to some people who didn’t do particularly well in their A levels and they're now rapidly moving up the career ladder.”

“In my friendship group I was the only one to do an apprenticeship. Very few people went on to do apprenticeships at school. But I think times are changing and it's now seen as a great career route. A lot of people think you have to go down the traditional uni route or you’re not going to get a job but going straight into work was definitely the right choice for me. I have an older brother and sister who both went to uni but neither of them benefitted as much, and a lot of people I knew who went, work in a completely different field from their degree. 

“When I was at school, I was part of the young district taskforce, so we went to lots of companies to do research about careers. I found that work experience far outweighed anything that people had gained on their degree. I didn't really have an interest in going to uni. I wanted to be more hands-on and learn the practical skills over studying every day for three years.”

Why did you decide to do a second apprenticeship?

“My manager mentioned that a degree apprenticeship was an option for me. I didn’t want to do a degree unless I thought it would be something interesting and useful that I wanted to learn about. I'm interested in data science and AI, it’s the area I’ve been working in for the last few years at IBM. It felt relevant to do a degree where I could bring back those skills and apply them day to day.

“Everything I'm learning on my degree I'm able to apply to my client work or applying it to other projects within IBM. I'm really able to see the benefit and understand how it applies to my job rather than just learning a curriculum and three years later going into a job where it’s no longer as applicable.”

What does your day-to-day job look like?

“At the moment I’m working with a UK bank. My role varies day to day but at the moment I'm managing their commercial and risk virtual assistance. I’m also applying a data science lens to the work we're doing, looking at our analytics and understanding customer trends. Another part of my role is teaching their staff how to use a virtual assistant and associated tools, with the idea that eventually they will replace the roles that we're doing as consultants.

“At the end of my apprenticeship, I’ll continue to work at IBM, but hopefully I’ll go into something more data science focused. I also know that I have the option to go and do a master's degree level apprenticeship. That’s not something I want to do right now but it's good to know it's a possibility.”

Grace, data science degree apprentice at IBM

“If you're considering an apprenticeship, my advice is go for it. For some people, a traditional uni degree is the right route for them and for some people apprenticeships are the right route. It’s whatever suits you best. I don’t think people realise the vast number of opportunities you can get by being an apprentice. One thing I would say is that it’s hard work, especially if you're looking to do a degree apprenticeship. You do have to put the work in, but the reward is worth it.”

“I recently got nominated for ‘Apprentice of the Year’ at the MCA awards and was also nominated as ‘BCS IT Apprentice of the Year’. I'm IBM's only data science degree apprentice and the first to complete a junior management consultant apprenticeship – for which I got a distinction. I'm really proud of those achievements. I’ve also been lucky to work with some really great clients and I get to travel for work; those are opportunities you don’t get every day.

“I still think there’s a stigma around apprenticeships. Going back into my old school and showing that I've not had to go to uni to achieve what I’ve done is really rewarding.”

Is there a big difference between the way that you’re living compared to your friends at uni?

“When we left school there was a big difference in the way we were living our lives. My friends who went to uni were out partying in the week whereas I had a 9 to 5 job Monday to Friday, so it wasn't possible. However, I still had my weekends to enjoy and I’m much further forward in my career than a lot of my friends. I’ve been able to buy a house and travel because I’ve been earning while learning. So, maybe I lost out slightly on going to uni and partying all the time, but that wasn’t really for me anyway. A lot of my friends who went to uni now see the advantages that I’ve had from doing an apprenticeship.”

What are you most excited about for your future career?

“I’m excited about continuing to work towards my promotions. Hopefully, I'll be one of the youngest partners one day; becoming a future IBM leader is inspiring. I'd say at IBM we have a good network of apprentices and we're always trying to help each other.”