Heriot-Watt Strategic Planning

Data is important to organisations of all sizes across all sectors of the economy, including here at Heriot-Watt University.

In this case study we hear from Connor Cook of our Strategic Planning, Performance and Projects team. Connor is a second year student on our Data Science Graduate Apprenticeship. We also hear from Em Bailey, Deputy Director Strategic Planning & Performance, who is Connor's workplace mentor.

Connor Cook, Graduate Apprentice at Heriot-Watt Strategic Planning

Please explain how you found the Graduate Position and give some background as to what you were doing prior to being offered the Graduate Apprenticeship position.   

I found the position through apprenticeships.scot. At the time I was a restaurant manager and had worked in retail before that. This role was something I was very interested in and suited well for the qualifications I had received in high school.

What were the benefits of Graduate Apprenticeship programme that attracted you the most?

The fact that I could learn something in a field I found interesting whilst still earning enough to support my family was a real factor for me, not receiving a living wage was the main barrier to me re-entering higher education. Another great feature is being able to directly apply what I have learned, instead of learning something and feeling like I would never use it again.

Please describe what you are employed to do and how you have coped with the challenges of learning new skills whilst studying towards a degree.

I am a data analyst in the Strategic Planning, Performance & Projects (SPP&P) team at Heriot-Watt, so my daily duties include data cleaning/acquisition and modelling the data to gain insights that can be displayed in a dashboard.

Entering the position was very challenging as there was a lot to learn relatively quickly however, the team provided great support and I quickly caught up to where I needed to be.

What is your proudest achievement to date in your role and can you explain how this impacted on your working environment and or helped deliver results on behalf of your organisation?

To be honest, I am constantly doing work I feel proud of, each new thing I learn helps the team in a new way.

My proudest achievement is the programming I did to redesign the way the university models returning students. This was a very difficult task, but it has allowed us to much more effectively model these students which in turn leads to better financial decisions being made.

What are your future career hopes and goals on completion of the Graduate Apprenticeship?

I hope to become a full-time member of the SPP&P team as I really enjoy the role I am in and think it would suit my skill levels. Already having a position in Heriot-Watt will also make it easier to find a job if the team's plans change in the future, whereas finding first employment is an issue most graduates face.

Even if I cannot remain with Heriot-Watt for some reason, having the professional experience should mean I would not have to settle for any entry level position I could find.

Can you outline what support and/or encouragement your employer has given you in your GA journey?

My employer has supported me at each stage of my journey and takes an active role in all my projects, helping me continue to improve by stretching the boundaries of what I think I can achieve.

How would you sum up your GA experience so far?

Quite simply, the best opportunity you could hope for.

Em Bailey, Connor's workplace mentor

Can you provide some background to the company?

Heriot-Watt is a global university with around 28,000 students and over 2,500 members of staff, across campus locations in Scotland, UAE and Malaysia, and is one of the key providers of Graduate Apprentices in Scotland.

Why did the company decide to go down the Graduate Apprenticeship route?

It was the logical thing to do – an opportunity to tap into the GA Data Science programme to enhance our data reporting and modelling activities.

What are the key reasons why the Graduate Apprenticeship model suits your specific business/industry? 

We're a publicly-funded university with a strong focus on expanding access to higher education – the Graduate Apprentice model is ideal for us, particularly as we are one of the key providers.  

What appealed to you most about Heriot-Watt University as the GA provider?

We know the excellent quality of the students, their teaching and their support.

In what way has the candidate made a contribution to the workplace / business?

Connor has been a real asset to the team, helping to advance our forecasting and modelling, and expanding our use of Power BI to summarise, analyse and disseminate data across a wide internal audience.

The wider team benefits from our GAs sharing their academic / theory knowledge from the programme, whilst the GAs benefit from experiencing first-hand the practical application.

How do you feel about the apprentice's future?

We look forward to seeing their further development as the GA programme continues and would be keen to employ them beyond graduation, should circumstances allow.

Based on your experience of the GA programme would you happily employ another Graduate Apprentice in the future? 

Yes, our two Graduate Apprentices have been a real asset to the team.