James Gee is among the first degree apprentices to graduate. We spoke with him about his experience.
James started his apprenticeship with Capgemini when he was 17 and has just been awarded a First Class Honours Degree in Digital and Tech Solutions.
We asked James about his journey and how it feels to be one of the first to graduate from a degree apprenticeship programme.
It feels absolutely brilliant. It’s been a long journey — 5 years. I’ve worked full time and studied distance learning. It’s not been easy but now I’m finished and I have a first class honours degree. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved.
I started the apprenticeship when I was 17, straight after A-levels. Capgemini put all new recruits through what we call boot camp. It’s a few weeks of deep learning before they put you to work. Once I’d done this, my first project was in Sheffield.
I had to grow up quickly. I needed to book hotels and learn how to claim expenses. They don’t just leave you to sink though – there’s support if you need it. The way I see it, you’ve got to learn sometime and I learned quickly, developing my presentation skills and becoming more outgoing.
The study part I did online. There were evening tutorials and the amount of time that I spent online studying would depend on the module. For example, Java I was doing day to day so I didn’t need to spend as much time learning this – only one night a month maybe. Other modules covered things that I didn’t practice every day, like data mining. I had no experience of this so it was quite tough and I would spend more time on that.
I found that I was applying learning directly to my job and my learning was reinforced by applying it in the workplace.
Deadlines at work could sometimes clash with study deadlines, which can be tough but I found that working in a consultancy and away from home a lot makes it quite easy. You can get your head down in the peace of your hotel room and get lots of study done with no distractions.”
What do your family and friends think about the route that you’ve taken?
I was the only one in my friendship group to do an apprenticeship and my sixth form was a grammar, so there was definitely a ‘you will go to uni’ attitude. My family was supportive though. My brother took a similar route so they’d already seen how well he’d done.
I didn’t get the results I needed for my university choices. I did four A-levels rather than three and I think this was a mistake. I enjoyed AS levels but applied to unis that required three A grades and ending up getting 2 As and 2Bs. I Went into Clearing and secured a place at Aston University – it was my aunt who suggested an apprenticeship.
I found Capgemini and thought ‘this is exactly what I want to do’. It’s taken me five years to complete but I love what I do. I have a full time job with Capgemini working in our Applied Innovation Exchange where we build things like facial recognition, augmented reality and voice recognition solutions, supporting clients by applying cutting edge technology to their business problems.”
I’d say, push yourself out of your comfort zone, never stop learning, and don’t go to university just because you’re not sure what you want to do.
I’ve been able to travel the whole of the UK through work. I’ve seen lots of places and I’ve had the chance to experience things which I wouldn’t have done through university necessarily.
The downside is the social aspect, for the first three years especially. All my friends went off to university and I was still really at home. That was hard to start off with but then you build relationships with work colleagues and make new friends and when my friends all returned from university, we regrouped. I didn’t have fresher’s and didn’t do the partying like my friends, but I’ve had a different experience. I’ve enjoyed gourmet food and I’ve been earning for five years and not had to pay any fees.”