Inspiring Young People to Consider Open Source Technologies

Written by | 01 August 2012 | Published in 2012 August
In the summer of 2011, Virya Technologies had reached a point where the company needed to expand due to the volume of work, but also wanted to invest in the community and provide an opportunity for a young person to gain employment, training, and involvement in Open Source technologies.
Chris Smith Chris Smith Tabi Farrow Photography

Starting an apprenticeship programme

In association with a local learning provider, an apprenticeship program was developed which gave a young person the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to specialize in the Joomla! Content Management System as a Junior Website Designer – we couldn't keep it a secret for long, and soon we had a student, Chris Smith, contact us who was interested in potentially working in web design, but wasn't sure if it was for him, and offered to come and do some work experience to see if he wanted to pursue this as a career.

After a short period of intensive learning, Chris was able to create, back up, update and migrate Joomla! websites independently, and even converted his hobby website over to Joomla! and started investigating how he could bridge in a forum they were using. Chris showed great promise and with his experience and enthusiasm he shone above everybody at the interview stage and started his apprenticeship in October 2011.

Learning the skills

Chris is studying towards an NVQ Level 2, which is a nationally recognised qualification and can be further developed to the level of a University degree throughout his career. All the work towards his NVQ is work-based learning – virtually every part of his course ties in with some element of our business, so he just has to show how he has met the learning criteria, demonstrate this through documented evidence (which can be recorded discussions, video clips, screen shots or the traditional essay format), and have it approved by his assessor.

Chris has already presented at Joomla! User Group Suffolk on how to create a template from scratch, and alongside our other members of staff, is starting to contribute towards areas of the Joomla! Project including documentation, bug squad and testing.

It’s not all plain sailing!

Taking on an apprentice hasn't been an easy ride – you have to remember that it is a paid training role, and it is your job to provide that training, pay their wages, and of course have the relevant employment policies, procedures and insurance in place. The first few months were extremely busy owing to having to maintain the workload alongside training our apprentice, but after this the demand on the trainer reduced dramatically, and now Chris manages his own case-load, deals with support queries and works independently. He is also developing his coding skills, working on a range of extensions we provide at Virya Software, and coming up with lots of promising new ideas!

They don’t just make the tea (don’t at all, in our case!)

As a small business we have endeavoured to include our apprentices in every area of our business – from sales meetings to quotes, carrying out the work to after-care, marketing and networking to running stands at exhibitions. We believe this not only gives a well-rounded understanding of the business process, but it also helps develop a lot of transferable skills which are useful to the apprentice in their role, and in the future.

We are hoping to expand our provision of apprenticeships to include server administration and marketing roles in the near future, and we are also developing close links with local schools by providing work experience placements for students, and through providing in-class sessions on open source technology.

We would encourage businesses to consider the great opportunity that taking on an apprentice can offer your business, and your local community. We haven't looked back, and look forward to supporting Chris as he continues to develop his skills and engages with the Joomla! community.

Chris was interviewed on our regional radio station BBC Suffolk about his apprenticeship last month - you can listen to his clip here - and no, he hasn’t yet made us a cup of tea or coffee!

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Ruth Cheesley

Ruth Cheesley

Ruth Cheesley is CEO and Co-Founder of Virya Group and has worked with Joomla! since the fork from Mambo.  She specialises in Joomla! - in particular Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - and is interested in exploring how open source technology can be implemented in business and education.  Virya means a driving force or energy to do good for the benefit of others, which is the central ethos behind the business.

She's also training for ordination in the Triratna Buddhist Order and runs the popular Joomla! User Group Suffolk, as well as the Mautic Meetup Ipswich group.