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In one year, 17-year-old Sam Barker has gone from knowing nothing about computers to be able to build them from scratch – all thanks to an Intequal IT Apprenticeship.

Leaving school with five GCSEs, Sam knew he wanted to get real-world experience and qualifications at the same time but he didn’t know how to go about it. At a careers evening at school, he met IT Steve Stokes and John Reiske, managers from local firm, Taylor Made Computer Solutions (TMCS).

Sam says: “A-levels weren’t an option for me. I didn’t enjoy school as much as everyone else. I took notes, got my GCSEs but deep down I knew I wasn’t really learning. I wanted to get some hands-on experience. When I heard Steve and John talking about the career opportunities at TMCS, it really interested me. My strongest and favorite subject is IT, so I asked them if I could do some work experience.

“I was only 16 but everyone at TMCS was really kind and happy. It was a nice working environment so I applied to the company’s Microsoft Partner Apprenticeship Programme. I was up against college students and university graduates and really didn’t think I would get it as they had a lot more experience than me. All I had was a GCSE in IT. It doesn’t sound a lot but something clicked. TMCS liked my personality and I got the placement.”

Sam started on a 12-month, Level 3 Infrastructure Technician apprenticeship working full time for a weekly wage of £275, which includes 2 x two-hour interactive online tutorials a week, workplace visits and 1-to-1 reviews. It also means Sam is able to learn and earn at the same time, unlike many of his friends at college who he says often moan because they can’t afford to come out at weekends.

Although it is hard juggling a full-time job with studying, Sam says he has learned more in a year than he could have ever imagined. “When I started, I didn’t really know much about computers but now I can build them from scratch. I’ve learned how to build computers to customer specifications. I can repair and reconfigure PCs with broken hard drives, graphics cards, motherboards and regularly deal with our partner company Hewlett Packard for all the components.”

One of the steepest learning curves was working for four months on the TMCS service desk where Sam was the first point of call for customers. Sam says: “It was quite scary picking up the phone the first couple of times because customers will be in some distress if their computers aren’t working or the Wi-Fi is down. You have no idea what could be wrong. But you learn very quickly how to help. Now I’ve got no nerves at all because I have the skills and confidence to help them. An apprenticeship gives you that on-the-job experience which you can’t learn in a classroom.”

At the end of his apprenticeship, Sam will be a Certified Microsoft Engineer, a globally recognised accreditation, and hopes to become a permanent fixture on the TCMS service desk. His advice to anyone else thinking about an apprenticeship is to take the opportunity. “An apprenticeship is the best option for people like me, who don’t like sitting in front of a whiteboard and want more hands-on learning. It’s been an incredible experience.”