With the current employment climate still proving to be difficult for many young adults to find jobs, having a skill set other than qualifications gained from school and college is becoming more important in order to have a C.V that stands out above the rest.

I have recently written a blog on student Rebecca Rickwood from Sawtry Community College who became World Champion for Excel 2007 in the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams which she did whist doing her GCSE’s.
But what about gaining skill sets in IT after school and college has finished?

This is where Zenos come in.

Leading provider of IT Apprenticeships in the UK, young people aged between 16-24 looking to gain IT qualifications and skills that can help move them forward in IT can do this through a Zenos IT Apprenticeship.

I spoke to Kevin Alty, senior trainer with Zenos (31 IT Academies in the UK and a strong supporter of Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Technology Associate certifications) Luke

Kevin runs the apprenticeships at Preston Academy. Very recently one of his students, Luke Harris, has gone beyond exceptional levels in the Zenos Apprentice Awards. Not only did Luke win the Zenos Apprentice Award at regional level (North) but then went on to win the Microsoft Award at the National Zenos Apprentice Awards, where our very own Greg Pearson had the pleasure to meet Luke and present his prize – an Xbox 360 Kinect!

Luke has gone through quite a few MS certifications and has a real passion and talent for IT. I wanted to find out from Kevin and Luke what it was that made these apprenticeships worth while and how doing this, has given Luke something he can be very proud of.

One of the first things that Kevin mentioned is that all his students attend the course from 9.00-5.00 and are required to be smartly dressed to give them a true working environment feeling. Up until then, his students have been used to working school and college hours. By doing this, they already know what to expect when they get that first job.

The courses themselves are made up of two Advanced Diplomas but also place great importance on Microsoft’s MTA and MCTS modules and exams at a professional level, giving the apprentices operational and fundamental skills that would be used in an IT working environment. By having these skills and being able to deploy, troubleshoot and find their way around an operating system such as Windows 7, they are more employable to an IT company than someone who had only academic exam qualifications for example.

To drive further motivation and ambition, Zenos have the Microsoft Outstanding Apprentice Award Each trainer can nominate someone for each from their Academy and so Kevin decided to nominate Luke for the Outstanding Award.

Luke then went onto win the Regional Award for the North and along with the winners for the South and the Midlands, 2 intakes from each, competed for the National Microsoft Outstanding Apprentice Award. When you think over 4,500 are doing these apprenticeships with Zenos each year, this is a huge achievement in itself!

Luke excelled further and then went onto win the National Awards.

When I interviewed to Luke over the phone about his achievement s and experiences, it came clear very quickly that this young man really does have a passion for IT and gaining skills to get him a role in an IT company – preferably Microsoft!

EJ - Before completing any of the MS Certs, what were your perceptions of IT?

LH – Although I knew my way around a computer, I had overlooked many of the tools and techniques used within a working IT Technician environment, and concentrated on the end user applications such as Word, Excel etc. A lot of my spare time was spent writing code and practicing my development skills, which reduced my involvement in the technical detail of the Windows OS.

EJ - What were your main reasons for wanting to do MS Certification and a Zenos Apprenticeship?

LH – I have always loved IT and wanted to enhance my skills and go into an IT career. I thought that Microsoft was the best company out there and to start a career with Microsoft skills would give me strong employability. I found out about Zenos at the local Young People Service office when I was looking for a job after I finished college. They gave me the information about these exams and so I applied to Zenos.

EJ - How did you become involved in the Zenos Awards and why?

LH – Kevin nominated me for the awards as he felt I had done really well throughout the apprenticeship. I was presented the Zenos Award at the Academy level and then I went onto the Regional Awards for the North before winning this and going onto the National Awards.

EJ - How do you feel these additional skill sets will set him above those who perhaps only have A’Levels for example?

LH – I feel I have gained practical experience with Windows 7 and I now have a deeper understanding of migration and deployment and how this is important in the IT industry. The exam questions are based on real scenarios and really made me think about how I would tackle tasks and challenges in the real working world.

EJ – Have you faced any challenges whilst going through the Apprenticeship with Zenos?

LH – I didn’t really like college and actually dropped out. When I started on the apprenticeship, getting used to working 9.00-5.00 which were longer hours than college was hard. I knew I had to focus if I was going to do well however I soon got used to it. The main challenge for me was to learn how to analyze and troubleshoot issues using the knowledge we learnt throughout the apprenticeship, and understanding which tools and techniques would be most suitable in various environments.

EJ - What would you like to do next?

LH – Currently I work in a telecoms company and use some of the skills I gained form the course. I would ideally like to work for a large IT company like Microsoft as I have a real passion for IT. I would also like to go on and do other Microsoft certifications at an Enterprise Administration level and progress onto become a Microsoft Certified Master.

From listening to Luke, it was evident that he loved his time with Zenos , so much so he would do it again!

With how the UK climate is currently at, I really believe that where possible, learning new skills other than the usual route of school and college exams, is really important.

Zenos provides this opportunity for anyone aged between the ages of 16 to 24 and not only goes with teaching those about IT and how to use it, but also prepares them for the office environment to give them that much needed head start.

National Awards

Luke (second from right) accepting his award and prize for Microsoft Outstanding Apprenticeship 2011 at the National Awards

Well done Luke!