One of NI’s top apprentice graduates shows success doesn’t always follow a straight path

Jessica McMillen graduates this summer with a degree in Computing Systems.

Jessica completed her degree part-time as a higher level apprentice – working four days a week at software company Kainos, and one day a week at the Jordanstown campus.

When Jessica left school following her a-levels, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She had applied for university full-time courses but decided ultimately this wasn’t the route for her:

“When I left school, I wasn’t sure in which direction I wanted to go. I had applied for full-time university courses but any I was offered were in England and I decided I didn’t want to move. I instead opted for a foundation degree at Belfast Met which was accredited by Ulster University. This gave me the starting point to look into undergraduate study which was when I discovered Kainos’ Earn As You Learn apprenticeship programme, offered in partnership with Ulster.”

Jessica embarked on the Computer Systems undergraduate degree and really enjoyed the flexibility this afforded her but it was the people that made the experience what it was for Jessica:

“My favourite element of studying at Ulster was getting to meet people face-to-face in class – making friends, building up a network of contacts and meeting apprentices on similar programmes from other companies, as well as the peer mentor groups. It was great to get together, share experiences and learn from each other.”

Thanks to the foundation degree, Jessica managed to complete her course in four years as opposed to five – joining second year straight away. Throughout her time at university, Jessica was a STEM ambassador and mentored a number of young people on work experience with Kainos. She also spoke at schools, sharing her experience of the apprenticeship programme and part-time study – showing not all career paths are straight forward or follow a straight line.

All of this hard work and extracurricular activity saw Jessica be named a finalist in the 2022 Department for Economy Higher Level Apprenticeship awards for her work as an ambassador for students, apprentices, and young women in the world of STEM.

Having already been promoted during her studies, Jessica will now transition from four days to five at Kainos and will continue to be a role model for others who wish to pursue a career in IT.

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