Hail Britannia! Earning and learning at the same time!

I discussed recently whether someone needs a university degree to get a job in computer science. It is my opinion that while a university degree is good to have, it is not mandatory in many areas of the IT industry, and certainly there are many good programmers and systems administrators who have contributed to the industry who never received an advanced degree. Of course a person still has to gain the knowledge, and to be hired for that “first job” without a degree or some other certificate (such as those offered by the Linux Professional Institute) to show you have that knowledge is sometimes very difficult. One method of learning which (unfortunately) is not as strong in some countries as it is in others is the concept of an apprenticeship program. Regulated in England since 1563 as an alternate method of learning, there now exists a very vibrant, government supported apprenticeship program (www.apprenticeships.org.uk) which helps to train people for many fields. In this apprenticeship program companies hire the apprentices and pay them a salary. Salary guidelines for recruited 16-18 year-old apprentices should be at least the UK national apprentice wage (16-18 @ £2.50 or 4.05 USD per hour) or the UK national minimum wage for people who are 19 years of age and older. The apprentice works a minimum of 16 hours a week, but is more likely to work 30 hours a week. Then they would take the more formal training from a school, or perhaps online. The apprentice actually learns twice, once from the more experienced staff of the participating company and once from the formal training offered. Given these hours as guidelines, the normal wage for an apprentice is usually about £170 (275 USD) per week. This might seem like a low wage, but the apprentice is spending part of their time learning both in an informal learning environment through the employer and a formal learning environment through colleges, private companies and other formal training organizations. In other situations a student going to university might have to take on a part-time job in a field that is not in their line of endeavor, and be paid even lower wages, while not learning anything that will help them in their chosen field. With the apprenticeship program, they are working in their chosen field and to get paid at the same time. The apprenticeship can take from one to four years to complete, depending on the number of hours of weekly training taken. The formal training is subsidized by the government, all the way from 100% for the 16-18 year old apprentices, to 50% for those people who are 19-24, and lesser amounts for people who are older than 24 on a case-by-case basis. Recently one of LPI's training partners , TDM Open Source Software Services Company (www.tdm.info) approached the UK-Government-backed ICT Apprenticeship program and suggested that using e-Learning and mentoring, TDM could develop skills in workers not only around the maintenance of Linux-based systems, but in other areas needed by a professional, such as English and Mathematics Functional skills, personal learning and thinking skills, employee rights and responsibilities and more. Of course one of the mainstays of the program embraces the objectives of the LPI's certification exams. TDM has spawned a separate organization, TDM Wyre Academy (www.wyreacademy.com), to do e-learning. They are using all FOSS tools:
  • Mahara (an open source e-portfolio learning and social network system)
  • TotaraLMS (a custom distribution of Moodle)
  • BigBlueButton (video conferencing tool)
  • Xerte Online Toolkits (tools for authoring and deploying interactive learning materials)
  • LAMP (I do not think I have to tell you what this is)

Training Apprentices for “Jobs Around the World”

TDM also offers a “flat-rate employment service” to companies where TDM hires the apprentices, has the apprentices work at TDM's site in Worcestershire, UK, but focused on the client company's projects. The client company develops a work plan for the apprentice, and TDM mentors the apprentices to do the work. The customer receives work done while the apprentice learns, and the apprentice uses TDM's equipment and TDM's facilities. The apprentice produces weekly reports of their work on the customer's projects, with monthly progress reports on the apprentice's growth being generated by TDM's mentors. At the end of the apprenticeship, the client company can offer the apprentice a job knowing that the apprentice has proven their ability to work as a remote teleworker. Typically the work done remotely is in web design or remote systems administration. The above is a world-wide offer, so companies outside of England can take advantage of this “flat rate apprenticeship”. TDM also offers apprentice recruitment, doing screening for client companies who are looking to hire an apprentice. Since the client company will be paying the apprentice over the course of time for work done, TDM spends a great deal of time and effort making sure the potential apprentice has the skills necessary to be successful. With rising costs of education, and with some people having the need to earn money while learning their trade, this apprenticeship program is one that is in step with the times.