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When university beckoned for 18-year-old Liam Sharpe, the thought of graduating with £40K of debt was a big concern. An ambitious computer student, he had the grades to go wherever he wanted to.liam-headshot

However, after spotting a job advert for an Intequal IT Apprenticeship, he instead leapt at the chance to learn while he earned. Three years later, Liam has reached the top accolade possible and passed the advanced level 4 Network Engineer Apprenticeship with Distinction. He’s now working in his dream job as a qualified Network Engineer for computer services company Tekgem and he has just bought his first home at 21.

Liam says, “From the very start I was determined to get the highest grade possible and make the most of the opportunities offered with an Apprenticeship. I took every exam that was available to me, including becoming a Microsoft Certified Professional as well as earning several other industry recognised certifications. Even though it was really hard work at times, the benefits and new career opportunities it has opened up, have been amazing.”

With two BTECs and an A Level under his belt, Liam applied for a Level 3 advanced IT, Software Web and Telecoms Apprenticeship with Tekgem before moving to an advanced Level 4 Network Engineer programme, the equivalent of a level 4 diploma. He worked a 40-hour week, including half-a-day’s training at his desk through online interactive instructor-led tutorials and also self study at home.

“I learned more in the first month of my Level 3 apprenticeship than I did during two years at college,” says Liam. “Apprenticeships are so different to the traditional qualifications. It is really hard to compare a level 3 qualification with GCSEs, A Levels or even a degree. The exams you sit are different and so specialised, but you need that level 3 to give you an underlying knowledge before moving onto a higher level 4 Apprenticeship. I don’t think I would have passed the level 4 course, if I hadn’t done the level 3 first.”

Liam is now working on a par with IT specialists at the top of their game in a thriving industry. He adds, “I was the youngest person in the office at the time, just 18 and working with people twice my age. It was a bit daunting. Then I realised the engineers at Tekgem were probably the best people from whom to learn. It was the best of both worlds. I was learning not just from the Apprenticeship programme but also from experts who are the best in the business. The combination of these two things made an apprenticeship with Tekgem a very exciting environment in which I thrived.”

Liam found he was constantly being challenged in new ways that help kept his IT skills razor sharp. He is currently troubleshooting IT issues and implementing new solutions for a large petrochemical company, looking after 800 devices including servers, switches, routers and firewalls.

Liam says of his work, “It can be a high-pressured environment. Last year, we had a big IT outage and lost 150 systems. One of the manufacturing plants was down for maintenance at the time and was due to come back up. We were told if we couldn’t get key plant startup systems working in the next 24 hours it would start costing the business half-a-million pounds a day. There was a team of eight of us working round-the-clock to get everything back up. It was a really stressful time, but I learned so much.

“We restored over 150 systems in 72 hours. It was very much a team exercise where we found new ways to do things under pressure. It was great to be part of a team that achieved what we did.”

Liam has now taken a permanent position with Tekgem as an IT Infrastructure Engineer and bought his first house at the age of 21. He adds, “Most of my friends who went to university have managed to secure jobs, but they also have £40,000+ of debt. I don’t have any of that worry.

“When I passed Level 3, Tekgem offered me a really good contract which was above and beyond what I was expecting. It certainly wasn’t your ‘minimum wage’ apprenticeship job. Throughout my apprenticeship I have been learning, earning and saving enough so that I could buy my own house when I finished.”

And the learning hasn’t stopped. Keen to progress further Liam is now studying for another exam – GICSP, Global Industrial Cyber Security Professional. He says, “The plan is once I’ve passed I can travel round the UK and Europe carrying out industrial and automation systems cybersecurity audits and transformational projects which is a growing market. In IT, it is important to stay on top of things. An Apprenticeship has enabled me to learn all these new technologies and advance my skills as much as I can.”

Liam also says, “The highlight of the Apprenticeship program was being nominated for Microsoft apprentice of the year and Intequal apprentice of the year. Although I didn’t win I was very proud to be recognised for all of my hard work and attend the prestigious events.”

Russell Collins, principal consultant at Apprenticeship provider Intequal, says, “If ever there was an example of Apprenticeship funding being used to the maximum, this is it. We have worked with Liam over the past three years to help him pass his Level 4 Network Engineer apprenticeship, having previously completed the Level 3 Server and Network Apprenticeship. He is a credit to Tekgem and Intequal but more importantly to himself.”