Case study: creating a world-class data science apprenticeship

A joint apprenticeship scheme co-developed between ARU, Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press is equipping people with the skills they need to work in the fast-growing field of data science.

Data science apprentices at Cambridge Assessment

Apprentices were recruited to join the two Cambridge organisations as assistant data scientists, where they are combining workplace learning with study towards a BSc (Hons) or MSc degree in Data Science with ARU. They are learning some of the most sought-after skills in the job market, including programming, big data analytics and machine learning.

A true collaboration between employer and ARU

Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press worked closely with ARU to ensure that these opportunities fulfil everything one would expect from a world-class apprenticeship.

Critical success factors

  • Critical to success is leadership support and investment: apprentices at both organisations have permanent contracts and work on live projects in key strategic areas, where data-driven decision-making is essential, so it’s clear from the outset that they are adding real value to the business.
  •  The apprentices know that their employers are committed to investing in their development, a further boost to their confidence, and the strong liaison between both Cambridge Assessment and the Press means that their new recruits benefit from a wider community of learners and mentors. They rotate around their own organisations during the first year, and across to their sister organisation from the second, so they quickly gain a deep understanding of both businesses.
  • What makes this apprenticeship such a high-quality and innovative offer, is the shared investment between ARU and the employer: whilst getting to know the practical aspects of their jobs, apprentices also benefit from the academic learning element of their apprenticeship, supported by ARU. It’s crucial that all parties communicate regularly and are open and transparent about progress and challenges, so that apprentices can be given maximum support to deliver outstanding results, both in the workplace and in their studies.

Benefits for employers and apprentices

Data scientists are increasingly becoming involved in almost everything that Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press do. Their roles help to unlock the power of data for customers. That could be by helping to develop and deliver exciting new data-driven adaptive learning and assessment products to learners and schools, using deep machine learning to train an algorithm to provide instant feedback to learners, or developing sophisticated forecasting models to help warehouse staff predict and plan for peak demand.

The Data Science apprentices have diverse career experiences and educational backgrounds: some were school leavers who wanted to combine practical, on-the-job learning with academic study and earn a salary while they studied for a degree. Others previously worked in other fields and were looking to upskill or change career paths.

Nick Raikes, Assistant Director of Research at Cambridge Assessment, said:

“Looking beyond traditional hiring routes and embracing diversity were exactly what we were aiming to achieve with our Data Science Apprenticeships. Our apprentices have brought fresh perspectives to invigorate our teams. We’re genuinely passionate about recognising potential and determined to give our apprentices the best possible start to their data science careers.

“This is a great example of how non-traditional routes such as apprenticeships can unlock fantastic long-term career options in exciting and sought-after fields such as data science – and bring in new talent to the organisation.”

Heidi Mulvey, Head of Community Engagement at Cambridge University Press, added:

“Apprenticeships are making an enormous contribution to how we strategically manage our future skills requirements. With the launch of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, we recognised that Levy funding was opening up fantastic new ways for us to develop and recruit people and we intend to continue developing our colleagues’ data and other skills through innovative ways like this one. With so many employers having to make savings wherever they can, the benefit of using Levy funding is even clearer."

Suparna Ghose, Principal Consultant, Degrees at Work at ARU, says of the initiative:

“We are immensely proud of this collaboration, and of the potential of this blue-chip apprenticeship to shape talent ecosystems in data science."

Find out more

To find out more about degree apprenticeships with ARU contact degreesatwork@aru.ac.uk or explore our apprenticeships pages.