HackIT Apprenticeships – how’s it going as a line manager?

We’re five months into our first cohort of our digital apprenticeship programme – there are 21 in total, spread over (almost) every team. When we started to plan our apprenticeship programme we knew that getting the right line management support and focus in place would be crucial to its success – and we’ve put high expectations on our line managers to deliver this.

This week we got together as a group to reflect on how it’s going as a manager on the programme: what’s going well, what’s not going so well, what do we think we could do next to improve and iterate our approach?

It’s not often that this group of people gets together to share experiences and reflect as a group so we ran this in a retro format – sharing our thoughts on the wall, then grouping them into themes and encouraging open and honest discussion.

What’s going well?

  • We’re really proud of what our apprentices are doing and learning – and of being a part of that
  • We’re all being asked a lot of questions – and that’s giving the rest of our teams a sense of pride in being able to teach someone what you know
  • There’s a real sense of giving someone an opportunity – our apprentices are all from Hackney or went to a Hackney school, and making a difference for local residents is a big part of our overall goal
  • We’ve noticed a developing sense of camaraderie between the apprentices – working together on projects, supporting each other
  • They’ve hit the ground running – and the speed of learning is impressive
  • It’s made us raise our game – when you have someone learning from you, you’re very aware of demonstrating great professional behaviours and knowledge as a role model
  • The learning goes both ways – we’re getting new ideas, different perspectives, and good questions that make us think

What’s not going so well?

  • Managing the relationship with the training / qualification providers is hard work – and is something we need to keep focussing on so that we’re making sure that our apprentices are getting the right training and support
  • Some of the content of the apprenticeship standard they’re studying doesn’t really fit with how we’re working at Hackney (for instance, there’s a lot of Prince2 content in the L4 Associate Project Manager qualification). Whilst we know that being able to recognise a Gantt chart in the wild is a useful skill, we don’t work that way. And for some there are aspects of their course that aren’t directly related to their role – so they’re having to work on modules that don’t feel very relevant to them. We need to make sure we’re supporting them with this as well
  • Finding time to spend on a one to one basis is a challenge – as is getting open and honest feedback on how it’s going
  • We put a buddying system in place for extra support but we’re not sure it’s really working that well – it’s something for us to look at and improve
  • We didn’t manage to get everyone set up on devices quickly enough – next time we need to plan this better
  • We’re not sure we always recruited the right numbers in the right teams at the right time – the whole programme was part of our overall restructure and for some teams adding apprentices came at the same time as forming a new team. There was honest feedback on how it’s been for teams managing this

So, what are our ideas for improvement?

We’re going to work on some new things:

  • How can we generate more opportunities for apprentices from different teams to work together?
  • Having opportunities for apprentices to work with colleagues in other services on short term assignments has worked very well – how might we create more of these?
  • How can we create space and encouragement for sharing work?
  • How could we redesign our buddying arrangements so that they better meet user needs?
  • How might we form a trailblazer group with other interested people to develop an agile delivery manager apprenticeship?
  • How can we develop our own mentoring skills?

And we will also be continuing to focus on building good relationships with all our providers, setting clear expectations of delivery from them.

Building a pipeline of talent – HackIT digital apprenticeship programme

Our 21 apprentices in our first cohort have been settling in since September – and are already having a really positive impact across our teams. We have apprentices across all our teams- from applications to data, delivery to digital service design, infrastructure, software development and support, on a variety of level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. They’re from a diverse range of backgrounds but they are all either Hackney residents or attended a Hackney school – part of the borough’s commitment to providing opportunities for our residents.

It’s a key part of our workforce strategy – we know that in a market where digital skills are at a premium we need to work hard to attract the right candidates, and that growing our own talent is vital. It’s also a great way of bringing new ideas and diverse experiences into our team.

The right learning in the right way

Since September we’ve been focussed on working with our three apprenticeship providers Ada, Arch and WKCIC to make sure we’re supporting the apprentices with the right learning in the right way. This hasn’t all been plain sailing – working with three separate providers means there  are different approaches to learning, and sometimes a complex set of relationships to navigate. Luckily we’re well supported by the Hackney Works apprenticeship team, and we’ve been able to iterate and improve how we’re doing things as we’ve learnt.

We’ve also been helping the apprentices to build their own professional networks. Amazon hosted a day of learning in December, running a series of skills workshops, idea generation sessions and an opportunity to learn how Amazon innovate. Feedback from the apprentices was hugely positive and enthusiastic – you can read more from Hidayat about the day and what it meant to him.

What’s next?

We’re continuing our work to develop a network of local employers who we can collaborate with to build a pipeline of digital talent in Hackney. As a result of a successful and creative joint workshop with Amazon in December, where we listened to views and generated ideas from learning providers and small businesses we have a host of ideas for how we can move this forwards – on this we’re thinking big, but acting small, and it’ll be exciting to see where that takes us.

Next up for the HackIT apprenticeship programme is strengthening those emerging professional networks. And we’re working with Google, Amazon and other employers to see what other learning opportunities we can create for the whole programme. We’ve got specific events planned for our female apprentices – recognising that women are in the minority in the tech industry and wanting to play our part in changing this. To do that we think we need to make sure we’re consciously supporting them and that that might need different approaches.

There’s a shared mission as well – showing the value that apprenticeships can bring, and supporting our apprentices to feel confident to talk about that themselves.

Governance so good, people prefer to use it

Governance as a service

At HackIT we’ve been thinking about how we run ourselves, and our work. I’ve been looking at what we need to do next to iterate our approach to governance. Our HackIT manifesto already sets out our key principles — and there’s been lots of work done to remove some tortuous processes that weren’t working for us.

We’ve already opened up our work, use the local gov digital standards as a benchmark, have adopted the GDS tech code of practice to guide us, introduced pair programming and test driven development, and we’re using agile principles and rhythms to deliver value early, and increase pace of delivery.

But the team is changing and developing — new people are joining us from all sorts of different organisations (and we have 21 new apprentices starting). We need to be able to scale, develop and embed our approach effectively — recognising that we’ll learn along the way and we’ll want to adapt it as we go.

Why is governance important to us?

Governance helps us maximise the flow of valuable work. That’s basically its purpose — with three main functions:

  • Coordinate what we’re doing and stop doing stuff, so we can go faster
  • Focus our people and money, so we can deliver what matters
  • Answer the question “How’s it going?”

My hypothesis is that we don’t need more governance. But because we are scaling a new approach to working using agile we do need to be really clear about what we’re doing and why, communicate it well, and keep checking in with ourselves to make sure it’s effective.

Principles

We’ve got some governance principles to help us get this right:

  • Work in the open by default — because that enables us to reduce formal governance
  • Most decisions should be made at team level — that’s where the best information is
  • When a decision impacts more than one team — teams are responsible for discussing and agreeing what to do between them
  • Where a decision impacts us all — we need to discuss that more formally at a senior level
  • Clear protocols and guidance help us so we avoid overwriting each other’s decisions.

We’re still working on some of our protocols and guidance — for instance around our data strategy and our API strategy — and some, such as the GDS tech code of practice, and the local government service standard we’ve already adopted because we know they work.

What are we doing next?

We’re going to clearly delegate responsibility and decision making to team level wherever possible. To support our teams we’ll focus on growing key skills and behaviours around leadership, decision making, working in the open and use of evidence. As a senior team we’re committing to regularly and clearly communicating our approach including how we feel about risk.

These are big commitments and we know we can’t do everything at once. So over the next three months we’ve decided the focus will be on:

  • Using the updated Pipeline tool that went live this week to openly show the flow of our work
  • Running 5 service assessments, learning from doing these so that we know what our change process (production into live support) might look like in the future
  • Carrying out a discovery phase on a next iteration of our Hackney Agile Lifecycle to support our understanding of and narrative about our governance approach
  • Building a strategic procurement plan using data and insight from our contracts register

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Some really clever and thoughtful people have done great work on agile, governance and working at pace. Here’s my curation of some of the best blog posts/articles I’ve read, along with my thanks to all of them for sharing their work so openly:

HackIT digital apprentices programme – delivering long term change

Our programme is taking shape

Since Rob Miller last blogged about our apprenticeship programme we’ve been working hard to get it off the ground. It’s a key part of our workforce strategy – we know that in a market where digital skills are at a premium we will need to work hard to attract the right candidates, and that growing our own talent is vital.

A successful recruitment campaign over the summer means that we have 21 new people joining us in September on a variety of level 3 and 4 apprenticeships. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds but they are all either Hackney residents or attended a Hackney school – part of the borough’s commitment to providing opportunities to residents.

In fact the standard of applicants we got was so good, and our managers are so engaged in wanting to develop the opportunity, that we’re hiring 3 more than we originally planned to. We’re confident we can support them all to develop over the next 2 years, in partnership with our 3 learning providers Ada, Arch and WKCIC.

Building a pipeline of talent is a team sport

We couldn’t have done this without the Hackney Works team who have given us fantastic support throughout. Their skills and experience have been invaluable in helping us through the process.

We’re also working with the wider digital community in Hackney to help us grow digital skills in the borough. Hackney has a thriving tech sector with world leading business (large and small) based here. In June we hosted an event for local employers and asked them for ideas.

They said:

  • Make sure apprentices are given specific projects to deliver so that they can build their own personal portfolios of experience
  • Support your managers with the skills they need to manage people who are at an early stage of their careers and have limited experience of the workplace
  • Work with us to share ideas and create opportunities to work together

And that’s what we’re doing.

We’re working with local employers to help the new recruits build their professional networks.  This includes working with MadeTech organising meetups with their trainee developers and our apprentices, Diva Apprentices to connect our apprentices to others in Hackney media companies and Amazon Web Services, developing mentoring relationships between Amazon’s graduate trainees and our apprentices.

We’d love to work with other local employers as well – if you’re interested please get in touch with us.

Looking ahead – women in tech

We’re also thinking now about the next time we recruit to our programme – in 2020. We will be working with people from different backgrounds, life experiences and heritages – an important enabler of building empathic digital services people prefer to use. We have 5 women and 16 men joining us in this first cohort. As a reflection of the IT industry as a whole this isn’t bad, but we are ambitious about improving it in the future and we think there is a lot we can do over the next two years to make that happen.