National Apprenticeship Week with Omar Qassem at DVLA

In honour of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), we’re highlighting the fantastic apprenticeship programmes and learning opportunities available across the ITS directorate and celebrating our apprentices and their stories.

By sharing their experiences, we hope to inspire others to upskill and grow within our digital family as part of our commitment to become a centre of digital excellence.

Omar’s Apprenticeship Experience

Omar Qassem is a current DVLA apprentice who joined us through the External Apprenticeship Programme as an Apprentice Data Engineer. Alongside his role on the team, he’s enjoying studying towards a Higher National Diploma in Computing (Data & Information Systems) and aims to secure a permanent position in the future.

We recently caught up with Omar to chat about his apprenticeship experience so far, and here’s what he had to say.

Omar Qassem

Apprentice Data Engineer in External Apprenticeship Programme

“I’m unbelievably grateful to have found this opportunity. It’s transformed my life, and I’m developing a career that I look forward to, in something that I genuinely enjoy, and that I find exciting.”

What motivated you to pursue a DVLA apprenticeship?

I had many roles before settling into this apprenticeship. I worked in catering and kitchens for 10 years before moving into the IT world. I’m still very passionate about food, but technology is where my heart lies.

I studied computer science for 2 years in 2011 and made my way back to the IT world in 2020 after I gained my CompTIA A+ certification. I then went to work at a service desk in Bridgend. I was initially a technical analyst there, became a manager, and then moved over to a supervisor position in a construction company. I should have stayed in the industry I loved though – IT! When I saw this role, I had to jump at the opportunity.

I knew the government had lifted the cap on the age of apprenticeships from 25, so being 31 I knew I could have a chance to apply and retrain. I was looking for IT apprenticeships within the software engineering space and came across this opportunity on the Civil Service Jobs website.

How is your working week typically structured as an apprentice?

I’m studying a 2-year HND university course titled Computing (Data & Information Systems). I attend university on Mondays, work from home 2 days and spend 2 days in the office every week. We are allowed time for our university work during our work hours.

The initial learning was online courses to get up to speed with the coding aspect of data engineering, and in-depth walkthroughs of other aspects of the role such as the systems, frameworks and methodologies used.

We then completed a project that mirrored the actual work the team does, to help us cement the knowledge we had acquired and enable us to become functioning members of the team.

The team specifically chooses tasks to give us that are within our current skill level, and those that will push us to increase our knowledge and skills further.

We’re very flexible. We’re encouraged to learn at our own pace, to make mistakes and to take the time to complete online and instructor-led courses. Of course, DVLA is investing in us and allowing us to attend different courses, but there is no set structure so-to-speak. We work with the wider team to continuously evaluate our learning, which is always geared towards our individual needs to suit the methods that work best for us.

DVLA Apprentice, Omar Qassem, with fellow apprentice, Mike Oldham.
DVLA Apprentice, Omar Qassem, with fellow apprentice, Mike Oldham

This year’s theme for NAW is “Skills for Life” – what new skills have you gained since starting your apprenticeship?

For me, as somebody who has always enjoyed coding and being creative, I have increased my SQL, Python and general programming knowledge a great deal and had the opportunity to put these skills into practice in real world environments.

I’ve learnt how to work together as part of a collaborative team within a software development space and learnt about the many aspects of database and software design. I’ve also attended conferences which have increased my understanding of the industry and big data technologies.

IT, especially software development and analytical roles like data engineering, require you to hone your analytical and problem-solving skills, as that is essentially the role: finding solutions to a problem. I have further developed my ability to break problems down, think through them logically, then come up with and test the solutions. This is a very transferrable skill and is not IT-specific.

I’ve been working with widely used and up-to-date development environments such as Microsoft Azure and Databricks, along with industry standard applications and servers. I’ve also attended many useful courses that are not only role-specific, but are designed for my own personal growth, such as those to improve my resilience and wellbeing, and how to present confidently. There have been several opportunities to showcase what we have been doing throughout our apprenticeship to large groups of people, both online and in-person, which has been an invaluable experience. It’s been great to put the soft skills I’ve learnt into practice.

How have your colleagues and line manager supported you in your professional development?

The level of knowledge available from the members of not only the data engineering team, but other squads within the IT department at DVLA, is incredible. They come together to work like a machine.

My line manager has been there to support us since day one, always making us feel welcome and always making our journey within DVLA as comfortable and nurturing as possible, allowing us to grow as effectively and quickly as possible.

Whenever we have needed support, he has heard us and helped us, and come up with some great ideas to assist us with how we can go about structuring different parts of our learning. He’s also taught us a lot about the culture and ways of working within ITS at DVLA, which I believe are some of the most effective ways to run a business and keep morale high throughout the workforce that I have seen.

It’s been me and one other apprentice, Jenson Davies, working and growing together and it’s been great to have somebody I can travel this road with. We have supported one another and worked together collaboratively with so many things, and we can push each other to be better. Whenever we’re struggling with a problem, we come at it from different angles and we both have our strengths that we can bring to the table.

It’s worth noting that all the teams within the IT space at DVLA have an abundance of knowledge, and they are always there to lend a helping hand or answer your questions if you ever have any questions about a subject they may be versed in.

How has your apprenticeship impacted your career development and goals?

While it may seem like IT has been with us for a long time now, it is still in its infancy, especially data engineering and the realm of big data. DVLA is investing in me by providing the opportunity to gain an industry-recognised qualification in the form of an HND, with the option for further study to complete a full degree in something that fascinates me, and I genuinely enjoy.

This apprenticeship has opened up a compelling path in life for me, and I’m now so content and excited about the future. It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone every day and I’m learning technical skills and knowledge that is transferrable to so many other avenues within the IT world. I’m also developing personal skills such as collaboration, personal wellbeing, communication, critical thinking, logic driven problem solving and so many more, helping me shape myself to become the professional and strong person I have always wished to be.

My goals right now are to complete my university degree, become a junior member of the team and become the best data engineer I can be, not only for myself and family, but for the incredibly supportive team that have helped me throughout my time here. As for beyond the apprenticeship, my goals are to keep learning about this incredibly fascinating subject, contribute towards some very interesting and challenging solutions, and become a senior member of the DVLA data engineering team. Who knows what after that? With the skills I’m gaining, many possibilities are open!

Would you recommend a DVLA apprenticeship to others?

I would absolutely recommend a DVLA apprenticeship to anybody wishing to develop or change a career.

You don’t need to have experience to begin an apprenticeship. I did, but the apprentices within the IT space at DVLA are from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are recent college leavers, and some have had careers previously like me.

It’s an amazing way to gain qualifications, learn valuable transferrable technical and personal skills, while gaining experience and earning a salary.

I’m unbelievably grateful to have found this opportunity. It’s transformed my life, and I’m developing a career that I look forward to, in something that I genuinely enjoy, and that I find stimulating and exciting. It’s opened up a world of opportunity that was not there previously. IT roles are extremely transferrable; with the qualifications, experience and knowledge I, and all the DVLA apprentices, am gaining here, the possibilities to be part of fulfilling and exciting developments within the world of IT really are immense.

When you have opportunities like this, the work you put in is very much worth it.

What advice would you give someone considering a DVLA apprenticeship?

I wish I knew about DVLA apprenticeships before. I was 31 when I entered the role, and I would have applied many years prior, had I known about them. I understand this is coming across as there are no negatives, and of course there are tough days, but I often compare this with my previous roles and career. For me, the culture and work here is so fulfilling, and I’m very grateful. An apprenticeship must be the best decision I have ever made.

Just like any university course, there comes a time when deadlines loom and there is a lot of work. It’s just like any academic study where there’s a need to do work outside of work or university hours, but if you stay consistent and do your best to not let things build too much, you’ll succeed. The teams at DVLA are very understanding of your need to complete university work, and they want you to succeed, so communication is a key part of managing your workload and you’ll be fully supported.

Hear from more of DVLA’s Apprentices!

Ready for more? Touch base with DVLA’s latest apprentices and year-in-industry students and hear all about their professional and personal journeys