1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:
As a DA, I've found that my day-to-day tasks will mainly consist of PA jobs, ad-hoc tasks, and chasing other employees. The tasks given are often hit and miss - some can require me to have years’ worth of knowledge and experience, whereas other tasks could be done by someone on work experience (which, funnily enough, has happened in a placement here; both the work experience person and I were given the same job to do).
Currently, the role I'm in is quite demanding and I'm finding myself being given work constantly, which at first was a nice change, but now I'm at the point where I've got an ever-growing list of jobs to do and no time during the week to finish them all. A positive side to this is that it gives a more real-world experience to what work life could be like and allows me to manage a workload and negotiate expectations.
2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?
My first few placements here were lacking on the education side of things, but the past year or so has felt more beneficial at both work and university. Unfortunately, on the work side of things at least, things have gone from one extreme to the other. Whereas before I was hardly given anything to do, I'm now struggling to keep up with an unrealistic workload which makes it difficult to develop on skills. Currently, I'm just trying to complete tasks as quickly and easily as possible so that I can move onto the next thing and maybe this does count as a skill, but it can sometimes leave me feeling frustrated.
I'd say that university is more well thought out on the development side of things, although none of the modules I've taken have benefited me in the work place.
3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?
There are both positives and negatives to the programme, but I've found myself stuck in a reoccurring theme: After every placement I say, "maybe the next team will be better", but then six months pass and I find myself back where I started, hoping that my next placement will be the one to finally make me see the value in my place at SSE.
It's a struggle at this point to stay motivated - especially when there doesn't seem to be an opportunity to see the plan for us all or even discuss what team I'd like to work in. There is so much potential in the scheme, with SSE being a good company to work for and the IT department having such a large pool of knowledge, but it sometimes feels like the scheme has been forgotten about and left to deteriorate off to one side.
The enjoyment from the teams themselves can differ. Fortunately, I've been lucky enough to have someone willing to mentor and help me through each placement, but I know others haven't had the same experience. Overall, it's often found that the placement manager either expects too much from their DA or is more than happy to use them as a free resource when needed and leave them to their own devices in the spare time. I'm concerned this has resulted in a negative mindset and opinion of the DA's in general.
4. How well organised/structured is your programme?
The structure of the scheme sometimes feels non-existent. It's not just the placements where organisation is wanting, but the bigger picture hints to the lack of structure SSE has for the Degree Apprentice scheme. DA's and grads are left to plan and arrange the recruitment days and induction weeks, which could be a good learning experience, except the teams have said that they have little to no input or management and have found it challenging.
As for the day-to-day of the programme, after multiple placements I can say that I've only been in about one that's suited to my skill set. There hasn't been much of an opportunity to sit down and discuss my likes and dislikes, nor give constructive/serious feedback on the teams we've worked with - at least feedback that somebody then takes into consideration. The placements and where we go within the company seem random with no personal strengths being played on and, on top of that, it feels like there’s no opportunity to discuss our future career plans with anyone bar our mentors who don't really have much power over the scheme structure.
The teams themselves also seem to vary with their knowledge about the scheme. I've lost track of how many times I've been mistaken for a graduate or had to explain how the degree apprenticeship scheme works and is different from the grad scheme. Nobody is asking us for our opinions and, on the rare opportunity somebody gets heard, it feels like these opinions are disregarded.
5. How much support do you receive from your employer?
One of the best benefits of the scheme is the mentor programme. My mentor is always there for advice on work life, personal life, and uncomfortable or unknown situations that arise within the workplace. I'd say that I receive most - if not all - of my support from my mentor and I'm very grateful to have one.
There have also been staff members within my placement who were willing to work with me on a more 1:1 level, offering support that the placement managers often can't give.
The university also offer a mentorship scheme, but I've not found that one beneficial in the slightest.
6. How much support do you receive from your training provider when working towards your qualifications?
We attend university once a week to attend two 3 hours lectures. The lecturers we've had so far have been varied in ability - whether that be knowledge about the subject or the ability to teach. Over the past few months the course seems to have levelled out, with the teaching and the lectures being more along the lines of what I expected when going to university. Lecturers also responded to any queries I had about the assignments and were often available for 1:1 meetings.
Our workplace offers us up to 4 hours a week to work upon university modules (assignments, intersessional tasks, etc.) but taking the time is dependent on the team you're in. Some DA's seem to have at least double the given time to work upon university subjects, whereas others hardly get any time at all. A positive from this has been my own development in time management and negotiation with my placement manager.
7. How well do you feel that your qualification (through your training provider) helps you to perform better in your role?
I don't really see how my university degree relates to my workplace. The technical modules I take have yet to relate to my role in the IT department. Some of the subjects taught also aren't applicable in a real-world scenario, or the information is outdated. That being said, the university has offered help on soft skills (communication, presentations, etc.) and that's had a positive impact on my career.
8. Are there extra-curricular activities to get involved in at your work? (For example, any social activities, sports teams, or even professional networking events.)
I'm not aware of any extra-curricular activities that I could get involved in, but, I wouldn't want to attend them regardless. I believe there are opportunities available for those who are interested, whether that be sports or a night out. The team's you're in sometimes hold social events.
9a. Would you recommend SSE to a friend?
I think that there are better job opportunities out there with companies that have a structured degree apprenticeship scheme. My time here has felt like a guessing game and has been a learning experience for both me and SSE. At this point in time, there isn't enough placements for the DA's on the scheme, let alone with more coming in.
10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to SSE?
My advice would be to prepare to become very independent. You'll have to source your own work, your own help, and your own way of getting advice. If you're not confident and/or don't have the necessary networking skills, then you'll find yourself bored or notice that people are disappointed in you. It's a lot of work and a lot of effort, but any job is going to be challenging. You only get as much out of this scheme as you put in.
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