Future Careers

Day in the life of Karen Handley

Karen Handley

September 7, 2018

What’s it like to work at Virgin Media? In our new ‘Day in the life’ series for our Careers blog, we’ll be featuring the people and personalities who are disrupting the telecoms industry, creating the products which delight our customers and ensure Virgin Media is a red hot place to work.

This month we caught up with Karen Handley, who leads the Future Careers team at Virgin Media. She’s incredibly passionate about future careers – and the 1st of September marked the 10-year anniversary of Virgin Media’s apprenticeship programme. To mark the occasion, Karen told us about her role her insights into the role apprenticeships play in the business and United Kingdom.

Can you tell us about what your team does and what a day in the life is like for you?

My role is to ensure we identify and build future career solutions, ensuring we have employee experiences which are effortless, relevant and allow everyone can thrive in their career. It’s really important to us that we are providing that Virgin WOW.

We accomplish this as a team by managing the full end-to-end future careers programme, which includes attracting candidates in the market, managing the selection process, on boarding and providing all of their development. We spend a lot of time working with key players in specific sectors, such as in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – and we’re really trying to influence parents and teachers, as they are the type of people who are really influential in encouraging young people to become apprentices.

As for day in the life… I know everyone says it, but honestly no two days are ever the same. I love the variety. We partner right across Virgin Media, and even Liberty Global, to see how future careers can provide solutions to their business needs.

Why is the future careers function an important part of Virgin Media’s workforce planning?

Right now, many sectors are facing challenges concerning recruitment and retention, whether it’s a skills gap, a hard to fill role, diversifying their workforce or tackling an ageing workforce. Plus, the skills required by employers today are evolving rapidly and we obviously need to adapt to stay competitive. Future careers provide solutions to many of these problems, which is why our programme sits at the heart of our workforce plans.

Our future careers hires account for around 8% of our total hires each year, and they’ve got some of the highest engagement scores and retention levels across the business, with many progressing to senior and critical roles. These hires allow us to build and refine our own pipeline of talent, to ensure we have the unique skills and capabilities for our industry, allowing Virgin Media to keep pushing boundaries. And when it comes to answering that need to diversify our workforce, our future careers programme is delivering there too – we’ve got a third of our engineering graduate hires now being female, and 46% of all graduate hires having a STEM based degree.

What’s your view on the perception of apprenticeships in the business world?

The future careers market has experienced a big shake up following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. The levy was created to ensure we have a skilled workforce in the UK – and the government has a target to get 3 million people on apprenticeships by 2020. Virgin Media has access to £2.3m of funding to build apprenticeship schemes. Employers basically use it or lose it, and because we’re Virgin Media, we’re grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

What I would say that the levy has been a catalyst to start transforming the perception of apprenticeships. To answer your question, I think there’s some way to go before everyone really understands apprenticeships. Perceptions are changing, but slowly. In particular, it’s been shown that parents and teachers are still not informed enough across the UK about apprenticeships, and yet we know these are the biggest influencers to the decisions of younger generations.

What are some of the big myths surrounding apprenticeships?

Unfortunately there are still a few stubborn myths surrounding apprenticeships.

The first – apprenticeships are only for school leavers: totally not true. We have apprentices from a range of backgrounds, from school leavers to graduates and more recently our existing employees, across a huge range of levels and roles. There are even Masters, MBA apprenticeships so there really is an apprenticeship for everyone.

Secondly, many people still think that you have to go to university to land a well-paid role, and that there’s less chance of finding employment with an apprenticeship. Again, not true. Recent research has shown that almost half of employers would actually prefer relevant experience on CV’s instead of a degree.

Another common misconception is that you can be too over qualified to consider completing an apprenticeship. But as I’ve mentioned, apprenticeships go all the way up to MBA level now, so there’s something for everyone.

What achievement do you think we should be celebrating for our 10 year apprenticeship anniversary?

Right now, we’ve got 13 different apprenticeship programmes across most areas of our business. And over the last year, we’ve been able to double the size of the programme, with plans to grow by at least another 50% within the next year.  Virgin Media has played a massive role in helping over 1300 people kick start their careers. Further, from our 2008 apprenticeship entry, 55% of them are still with us, showing the scheme is really adding value to our workforce planning – and to our people’s careers!

Interview by Jonathan Bates

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