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Our BrightStart apprentices combine degree studies with on-the-job experience

Northern Ireland’s first Level 6 apprenticeship scheme was launched in 2015 with an intake of 19 successful applicants. Now, every year, it welcomes around 70 recruits, known as BrightStarts. And not only is it creating employment opportunities, it’s bringing new perspectives to our business.

Zara Buckley, who was among that first intake, has been forging her career in consulting and is looking forward to graduating later this year. Here, she joins Belfast’s Head of Talent Karen Butler to explain what the programme is all about.

Can you tell us a bit more about being a BrightStart recruit?

Karen: “It’s a four-year structured programme for school leavers, or those who haven’t already received a university degree. They work at Deloitte four days a week while studying for a fully funded BSc in Business Technology. It’s a dynamic and innovative degree, designed in partnership with Ulster University Business School.

“We see BrightStart as a career accelerator, but it also brings diversity to the business, as it allows us to welcome people with fresh ideas who challenge us.”

Zara: “I took a year off after leaving school, as I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went to a careers fair and the Deloitte stall stood out. The apprenticeship route offered the combination of learning and work experience that I was looking for and there were so many different opportunities.”

What does the work element of the programme involve?

Karen: “All our BrightStarts are on the same learning path, but they might take slightly different specialisms depending on the team they join. It’s not work experience; apprentices are full-time employees involved in live client projects. More teams in Belfast are taking on BrightStarts, so the scheme is growing in terms of opportunities, as well as the number of recruits.”

Zara: “I’m an analyst now and when I graduate at the end of the year, I’ll be promoted to consultant. I’ve worked with software clients, retail clients and on lots of business transformation projects. Learning on-the-job has helped me to really narrow down what I want to specialise in.

“The scheme also provides professional development opportunities. For instance, I’ve been able to work towards certification in business analysis practice from the British Computer Society.”

What other benefits are there to learning on the job?

Zara: “Being part of a big firm, seeing the theory in practice and working with so many clients. Also, it means my career can progress quicker; when I graduate I’ll have the same qualifications as if I’d gone to university, but I’ll have much more practical experience and you can’t put a value on that.

“I’ve been to the US, Belgium and many more places. I’ve seen different cultures, worked with other member firms and met people from all over the world. I don’t think I would have got those experiences at university.

“There are also the life skills you develop. When I went to America, I had to know what visas to get and how to book flights and hotels. I’ve become so organised – it can be difficult working four days a week while studying, so you learn to plan everything.”

What would you say to anyone considering a BrightStart apprenticeship?

Zara: “If you’re looking for an opportunity to get valuable first-hand experience and study at the same time, it’s brilliant. I’ve recommended it to so many people. Deloitte has been very supportive – we jumped from school to a corporate workplace, but the firm has looked after us. There’s nothing I would have changed.”

Karen: “We prepare young people for the future and help them to gain some softer skills alongside core tech and consulting skills. They’re also able to learn creatively within a business school, whilst also experiencing the world of work together.”

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