09 Apr 19

First-hand User Testing

So 2019 saw us take on an apprentice here at Bullet Web Development. Jodie joined us little over a month ago as a “Software Tester”. We prefer the title “Head of Quality Assurance”… or “Chief Tester”… we digress…

As it is currently “National Apprenticeship Week” I thought this a good time to share our thoughts.

Application Process

After placing an ad for our apprenticeship role we received about 50 responses. What struck me about these responses was the complete lack of effort on people’s part. Of the 50, about 45 simply clicked “apply” on the job board site which triggered the submission of their CV as was. No cover note or adaption of CV for the role. I always find this a little disappointing. ‘Back when I were a lad’ (said in deep northern accent), I was taught that you send a cover letter (no such thing as online applications then) expressing your desire to work for the company being applied for. With it attaching your CV, adapted if need be to demonstrate the skills most applicable for the role being sought.

Does this life lesson not get taught anymore? Looking at the responses I’d hazard a guess at no. Or perhaps the youth of today believe us employers should be lucky to have them? Who knows. So the majority of those who applied got a friendly piece of life advice from me and a rejection.

We spoke to a few potential candidates, all had their qualities and skills. It was a fairly niche role we were trying to fill. As an application development company, ensuring what we deliver is of high quality, is important to us. Increasingly, that quality control step was falling to me. As a growing company, this was not a sustainable model. Either quality would suffer as I had less time or growth would be limited due to my dwindling time.

After an initial chat, Jodie did a few “trial days” to ensure she felt the role was the right step for her. We loved her attitude and she had the skills to succeed. But it is as important, for someone so young, to understand what they were getting themselves in for. There were pros and cons for taking our role — we are not a big team but on the flip side, Jodie would be straight in and making a difference on real work.

Welcome, Jodie

We were delighted when Jodie joined us early in 2019, having just turned 17. She gave up the Computer Science course which she’d started at a local college, to take on this role. A daunting experience, Jodie quickly settled in and was undertaking work on client projects almost immediately. We were keen not to dictate how testing tasks should be undertaken, more to steer Jodie on the right approach and things to consider. Also pointing her to relevant articles and online resources for guidance.

It’s clear, even from these early stages, that Jodie is a self-starter and happy to crack on — that was a must for us, as a small business with limited time to spare. If I am honest, the pace Jodie has picked things up and completed tasks is far beyond what we had envisaged — we are struggling to give her enough runway of work!

The Learning Aspects

We were lucky enough that the Government is funding the entire cost for Jodie’s learning journey and we’ve engaged with a training provider offering a Level 4 Software Testing Apprenticeship standard. The structure of the course and learning topics will give Jodie a nice background and bring enough knowledge back to us, that we can use in our processes. Over the coming months Jodie will be attending a mix of face-to-face courses and undertaking online learning modules.

This is all good, where is the catch?

In all honesty, the concept of apprenticeships and our experience thus far in terms of the “person” has far exceeded expectation. Where the right person is the right fit for the role, keen to learn and able to add value to the business it is a win-win for all parties.

However, our main negative about the process so far, is around the management and overall vision of the apprenticeship journey for Jodie. As we know there are 3 parties here:

  • Jodie, the apprentice
  • Us, the employer
  • The training provider (mentor, coach)

We know what Jodie is doing day to day, the training provider knows what Jodie will be learning and when. Jodie, I think, knows a bit of both. But, Jodie is 17, she has just left school, where time was structured and specific dates and tasks were asked of her as a pupil. Suddenly the learning schedule is vague, the tasks and deadlines also woolly. Although Jodie has not expressly said anything, I can see how tough this must be and where her priorities lie. Moreover, the tool we have been given access to, which allows us to monitor and feed into Jodie’s learning, is, being honest, terrible. I won’t name and shame but its a well known (and expensive) apprenticeship tool. Jodie struggles with the tool also, it’s cumbersome, confusing and nothing clear in terms of what is coming next. Terminology, again, is not something that a young person will be able to understand without explanation. One area is merely called “Mappings” — what does that mean and how does it relate to anything? I can’t explain it, so how can Jodie make sense of it.

Confusing right?

If it’s that easy why don’t we build such a tool?

In short, we did. About 18 months ago a training provider wanted to build a tool which did all the things I mentioned above. We delivered this for them and having now become an employer of an apprentice, I can hand on heart say that the tool we built would be perfect for our needs. We called the tool “Latent Path”.

To give Jodie an insight into the tool we’d built, we set up a programme and gave her access. Although not linked to an actual apprenticeship standard, it gave Jodie structured access to company information and background over a period of a few weeks — as part of an induction process.

Obviously, we are going to shout about how brilliant our apprenticeship management tool is, but having had a play, as proper end users, we firmly believe it ticks a lot of boxes for the apprenticeship of today.

Let’s remember the users

In all this, let’s not lose sight of the fact that a lot of apprentices are young people, fresh out of school. They have come from a structured learning environment with clear tasks, deadlines and expectations set. Now they are in a workplace, alongside people who’ve been doing their job for years. They are given access to a wealth of systems and tools. They are thrust into a world of more casual learning, alongside the stress of working in the “real” world. Employers are managing these young protegees, they want them to be the best they can be. Trainers are overseeing their learning ensuring they pass the relevant standards.

For me, the key thing here is to remember all these people have a common goal — to deliver an apprentice who is qualified and adding value to their employer. It needs to be a “joined-up” approach. Everyone needs a central view of what is going on- in a digestible and usable format.

We’d love nothing more than to get a few more apprentices, employers and training providers enjoying our apprenticeship tool. We know it’s not perfect yet, but then nothing online should ever be “finished”. I do think it is better, than the tools out there, which would cost a whole heap more than our tool, to implement.

Smarter Apprenticeships

For more information about the tool we built and how it might benefit your apprenticeship delivery, read our product page below.

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