How advanced and higher apprenticeships provide a skills pipeline at O2

While many sectors are struggling to deal with slowing sales or reduced resources, IT and telecommunications companies must continue to invest in training and developing future skills if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

Mobile network operator O2 – part of global telecoms company Telefonica – has been running an apprenticeship programme for the past 13 years. It now offers 12 advanced apprenticeships every year in its operations department.

Its three-year higher apprenticeship programme blends study with practical work experience and leads to a level 3 diploma in ICT professional competence. During the first two years, apprentices complete four six-month placements across different teams, working with the networks, the IT and service operations and the programmes departments. This means they get an in-depth view of various job roles and teams before they undergo training in the area they would like to move into permanently.

Lucy Warren

Lucy Warren, skills for the future manager, Telefonica UK.

“Running an apprenticeship programme offers us a way to manage our skills requirements by identifying future need, while equipping new recruits with the skills they need to work in a variety of roles,” explains Lucy Warren, skills for the future manager at Telefonica UK. “It has proven to be really effective in helping us understand where there are skills gaps or requirements in different sectors of the business.”

Apprentices earn a salary of £16,800 while they learn. After they have completed the apprenticeship and gained their level 3 qualification, they can move onto the company’s higher apprenticeship scheme, where they can begin to study for a degree and then move on to the graduate development programme. One of the highlights for many apprentices is the opportunity to gain a GCSE in Spanish. Gurpreet Deiol, who is six months into his first placement on the scheme, believes this to be a real perk of the job: “Every Friday the apprentices get together for a Spanish lesson, which is fantastic.” 

Jana Leitnerova, a participant on the Higher Apprenticeship scheme, started out in O2’s customer service department in Leeds after moving to England from the Czech Republic. She had worked for another mobile network prior to moving here and was told she would need to improve her English to progress to a managerial role. Working at O2 and taking up an advanced apprenticeship has helped her improve her command of the language, earn money and gain a qualification at the same time. She hopes the higher apprenticeship scheme will equip her with the more advanced management skills she needs to move on in her career.

In addition to the mandatory elements of the programme, O2 also provides professional training in areas such as project management and qualifications attached to specific IT/telecoms systems. Apprentices have a structured training and development plan, as well as the usual holiday entitlement, staff discounts and mobile offers that other permanent staff can access. O2 apprentices have even formed a forum where they discuss their progress and put forward ideas to develop the programme, thereby giving feedback to the management team and influencing what is on offer and how it is delivered.

“Through the higher apprenticeship programme, many of our apprentices have gone on to secure management roles within the company,” says Warren. She also notes that running the scheme, and the potential opportunities for progression in the company, have improved employee engagement and retention.

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