Mari-Anne’s story: Apple’s UK software engineering apprenticeship

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Written by Mari-Anne Chiromo

The start of my journey

When I started my role as the External Partnerships lead for Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) covering EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa), one of the things that excited me was that I was empowered to make the role my own. There was no play book. No box I’d have to fit into. Having started my journey in the UK as the first to leave my home country of Zimbabwe and navigate my career alone, I was totally unprepared for how my race, ethnicity and gender would far out shadow any skills or capabilities I had.

It took many years of trying to fit in, trying to be accepted, even trying to be acceptable, before realising that I wasn’t the problem. If the events of the past few years have taught us anything, I hope it’s that regardless of what role we’re stepping into, at no point should we be doing so as anyone other than our full, authentic, wonderfully unique selves, and the valuable differentiation that comes with it. There can only be one original, right? 

The appeal of Apple

Another huge attraction for me was the sheer power that would come with the formidable brand power of Apple, and what that would mean as far as being able to really drive meaningful change. To be in an organisation synonymous with not just technology, but groundbreaking, world renowned technology underpinned by game-changing innovation, was extremely exciting!  

One of the initiatives that has delivered on the expectations I had of working at Apple is the EMEIA Apprenticeship Program which launched in 2021. What I’ve loved about this program is how it illustrates that by leading with inclusion, diversity follows. You see now why Apple refers to it as I&D rather than D&I?  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.

In this case, by going upstream to understand why we see so little diversity on all fronts in the Software Engineering space, we’ve been able to design a program which takes down those barriers.  By challenging the requirements which can often create barriers to inclusion and therefore diversity, our first cohort of apprentices is 100% female and ethnically diverse.

When you consider that these just happened to be the top performing candidates in a customised process, designed to find potential rather than filter based on traditional pathways, it highlights the need to review every step when it comes to bringing in diverse talent.

Our second cohort of Software Engineering apprentices are currently completing the intensive ‘Bootcamp’ that gives them the technical foundations they need before starting a 20 month placement at Apple. This is because this apprenticeship is for people with no experience in coding or software engineering.  We also don’t require specific grades, and certainly not top grades in any stipulated subjects or a degree. 

Our values and focus

We lead with inclusion and focus on the willingness and capacity to learn, because going upstream means understanding that putting high academic attainment at the gateway of access opportunities designed to help people from underrepresented or underserved groups inadvertently doubles down on the discrimination. 

People from underrepresented groups will often have been precluded from achieving or fulfilling their potential because of the systemic bias of educational systems, the negative experiences within them due to discrimination, or the differential access to key resources that support that attainment.  

We’ve started with a pilot in Software Engineering for a number of reasons, including the fact that ‘Software developer’ secured the top spot on US News & World Report’s list of the best occupations of 2023, moving up from the number five spot last year, according to a Bloomberg report.  The plan is to continue to structure apprenticeships in a way that’s geared towards maximising employability – both within and outside Apple – and making a meaningful impact on shifting the levels of equity and representation across industries.

Beyond the technical capabilities, valuable work experience and a support network for each apprentice, we’ve designed additional components including mentoring and supplemental training.  The teams hosting our apprentices have also benefited not just from the ideas and questions, but from the experiential exposure to the real value of diversity in teams.

We’re excited to be looking ahead to our next recruitment wave for our 3rd cohort in Software Engineering from April 2023 – visit Apple’s Career page.  Our primary focus is inclusion, because we know with every single apprentice, how powerful diversity of thought, of experience, of pathway is, and how critically important it is in an industry that should work for everyone in a way that works for them.

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