Sometimes, not going to university isn't a choice for everyone. That was the case for Umayr. But now, he's winning awards, featuring in national marketing campaigns, being invited to the House of Lords, and raising awareness for apprenticeship routes. Here's his story...

Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship?

For me, it was a unique situation. I'm Muslim, and due to religious beliefs, I couldn’t take out a student loan. And as I couldn’t afford to go to university without a loan, uni just wasn’t a choice for me.

I then set out to find an alternative to the traditional university route, and after some research, I discovered degree apprenticeships. I realised this route would work better for me as I enjoy being hands-on and learning in a practical way, and the idea of sitting in a lecture theatre for three years didn’t really appeal to me. So, these are the two reasons I chose to do an apprenticeship.

What made you choose a career within the technology sector?

I was excited by the endless opportunities that the technology industry offers. When I first started applying for apprenticeships, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to go into. So, for me, it was important to go into an industry where I could experience various roles that needed different skill sets.

What drew me to a technical role was that I could be part of new technologies and create solutions that could help society. That part of it really appealed to me.

What made you want to apply to BT Group?

After doing some research into BT Groups values and culture, I felt like their values matched my own. I liked that they were a flexible employer and invested in their employees' development. 

Being fresh out of sixth form, I knew I would have a lot to learn, so finding an employer that could support me in that was really important. 

Umayr featuring in marketing promotion displayed outside the BT Group headquarters in London

Looking into BT Group, they had loads of learning and development opportunities on offer outside of the apprenticeship qualification, including access to different learning platforms. From a cultural perspective, Diversity and Inclusion are an important part of BT Groups culture, which is another reason the company appealed to me.

They’re great at accommodating employees' needs, whether religious or not, and in the offices, there are multifaith rooms for employees to use, which is great to see. All these reasons are why I knew BT Group was the perfect match and perfect employer for me.

Do they have any groups or networks that you can get involved in outside of your day-to-day role?

Absolutely. We have people networks which focus on a specific group or a specific cause. I'm a part of the BT Muslim Network and I started off two years ago as the Communications Lead and just a few months ago, I became Co-Chairman.

I’ve been heavily involved in the network since starting my apprenticeship and I’m now in a position where we're making a lot of impact, raising the awareness and profile of the network within BT Group.

It seems that you've done a lot already in your apprenticeship. What would you say has been the biggest highlights of your apprenticeship so far?

My first major involvement outside of my day job was the BT Muslim Network as Comms Lead. In my role, I created and coordinated company-wide campaigns for key dates within the Islamic calendar, such as Ramadan. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the Happy Ramadan message that was displayed on the BT Tower in London for the first time in its history. That was a really proud moment for me to achieve so early on in my apprenticeship. I was also able to engage with the Global CEO of BT Group, Bas Burger, to get him involved in our campaigns. This was a surreal but amazing experience, especially being so new to employment and the company.

Umayr working on his phone from the BT Group headquarters in London

Beyond the network, I’ve visited schools and sixth forms to raise BT’s profile in the apprenticeship space. From this, I got the opportunity to feature as part of the BT Group apprenticeships marketing campaign. This involved taking part in marketing videos, Instagram/Facebook adverts, and having my face printed out on large banners and billboards that have been used across the country.

Last year, as part of National Apprenticeship Week, I was selected to be part of a small group to represent BT apprentices at 10 Downing Street. We got to go inside and sit down with the Secretary of State for Education. I was able to give my thoughts and opinions on how the government can improve the uptake of apprenticeships, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Umayr representing BT Group apprentices at 10 Downing Street

Off the back of all this, I was put forward for and won some awards. I was awarded Highly Commended for the Digital & Technology Apprentice of the Year 2021 at the Multicultural Apprenticeship Awards and I also won the Judges Choice Apprentice of the Year in 2022. Then shortly after, I won the Special Recognition Award 2022 at the National Apprenticeship Awards, which is organised by the Department of Education.

At National Apprenticeship Week this year, I was also given the opportunity to go to the House of Lords for an apprenticeship dinner with some Lords and Baronesses. I was chosen to give a speech as well to talk about my apprenticeship and my achievements thus far. This was a really proud moment for me as very few apprentices get the opportunity to speak in the House of Lords, let alone those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Umayr receiving an award in 2022

I’m so thankful for the opportunities my apprenticeship has given me, and I’m passionate about giving back and showing what apprenticeships can offer other people. 

As a result, I’ve co-founded my own organisation called ACE Insights, in which I’m working with like-minded apprentices to build and turn into a success. We are hoping to use this organisation as a means of promoting apprenticeships and supporting and uplifting current and aspiring apprentices to achieve the best they can.

I know that’s a long list, but that’s, in a nutshell, what I’m most proud of during my time as a BT Apprentice so far.

You’ve made an incredible pathway for yourself by getting involved in things outside of your day-to-day. It’s clear you’re proud of everything you’ve achieved, as you should be. Whilst you’ve had many, many highlights, have there been any challenges during your apprenticeship journey so far?

I wouldn't say there have been any major challenges. But, there have been general challenges that most people face with an apprenticeship. For example, time management, when you have both university and work deadlines. At the beginning, I found it quite difficult to maintain that balance, and often, I would feel overwhelmed by the pressures surrounding me.

However, I overcame this by ensuring I had a schedule to stick to so that I could organise and prioritise my time during those key periods so that I didn’t neglect anything. I’m by no means perfect with my time management now, but I’m a lot better off and still continuing to learn.

Umayr speaking on a panel event

As your apprenticeship is coming to an end in September, what are the next steps for you?

Come September, I would like to move into a full-time role at BT. I want to develop my hard skills within software engineering and work my way up to build a fulfilling career. In the future, I would love to use my technology and engineering skills to create passion projects that will have an impact on wider society.

I also want to continue doing work in the apprenticeship space, by mentoring and supporting other apprentices on their journey.

When I was applying for apprenticeships, there wasn’t a role model who looked like me, or came from my background, that I could look up to and see how successful they had become, so I really want to be that role model and instil confidence in people like me.

I’ve noticed from speaking to people from disadvantaged backgrounds that there is a lack of belief in themselves, so I really want to be the person that can change that.

The final question I have, what advice do you have for anyone considering doing an apprenticeship?

There are a few pieces of advice I would offer. Firstly, don't let the stereotypes and the stigma that we have around apprenticeships sway you away from your decision. If you feel like an apprenticeship is right for you, then go for it. Just make sure to do your research to find which route you want to go down.

Some of my own friends have regretted not looking into apprenticeships and just going straight to university, so it’s definitely worth the look.  

Secondly, when you start applying for apprenticeships, practice is really important. As school leavers, it’s likely you won’t have much experience with doing interviews, I certainly didn’t. So, practicing will allow you to be more confident when you go into your real interview.

I recommend asking a family member, friend, or teacher to conduct a mock interview with you. They can ask you generic questions so that you can practice answering them like you were in a real interview. If you don’t have anyone that you can do that with, you can always do it in the mirror, which is what I used to do. That way you can practice your answering technique and body language, and ensure you’re not sounding too monotone. That way, when you get to the interview stage, you’ll be more confident and be able to focus on what you actually say for your answers.

To learn more about Umayr, as well as the rest of our GetMyFirstJob Apprentice Ambassadors, click here. And to start your own journey into software engineering, see what a career in informational technology (IT) could look like for you.

Apprenticeships Engineering & Manufacturing guest blog