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Interview: Sparta Global kickstarts careers in tech

Sparta Global has trained and deployed more than 3,000 people in tech, deploying them in public and private sector organisations across the UK and Ireland.

Notably, these ‘Spartan’ trainees come from a wide range of backgrounds — 53% are from ethnic minorities, 42% are the first in their families to go to university and 31% are women. In 2021, the company won a Princess Anne Training Award and this year has received the King’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of its excellence in promoting opportunity and social mobility. Infotec spoke to co-founder and CEO David Rai…

David Rai, CEO and Co-Founder of Sparta Global

David Rai, CEO and Co-Founder of Sparta Global

Congratulations on winning the King’s Award for Enterprise. Will there be a glamorous prize-giving?

Yes, there’s a reception in July at Windsor Castle for all the companies that have won an award. As well as King Charles, I think quite a few other members of the royal family will be there.

The award is for your work in promoting opportunity. What does that mean?

At Sparta Global, we help companies to build their technology capability. To do that, we use a hire, train and deploy model. We hire people from diverse backgrounds and train them rigorously in our academy. Then we deploy them across different clients. The award recognises the work we do around social mobility in the UK, especially in helping people from underprivileged backgrounds. Our focus had always been on helping young people and people from such backgrounds to get into technology.

How do you identify who you’re going to help?

There’s a massive shortage of technology workers in the UK overall. A lot of organisations are dependent on software vendors abroad — they might be in India or Poland or wherever. Yet there’s a lot of untapped potential in the UK. We’ve sought to address that by bringing new talent into the ecosystem. As well as training youngsters in the UK generally, we’ve also looked for people who might have been overlooked for roles in technology. That includes graduates, non-graduates, ex-forces personnel, people wanting to make a career change or those who are interested in technology but have never been given a chance. We hire our Spartans on the basis of potential and then our academy trains them in the high-demand skills needed for the future, such as data engineering, software engineering and cybersecurity. Those opportunities can change their lives.

Can you give examples?

We have so many great stories since the company was founded in 2015. We had a Spartan from one of the most deprived council estates in south London. We trained him in software engineering and he now works for a large legal firm that used to only employ Russell Group graduates. When he came on board, he outshone them all. Then there were two doctors who came to the UK from Ukraine and were struggling here. They came to Sparta Global, trained in software engineering and now work for a large bank.

A single mother in her 40s who’d been doing lots of manual jobs was looking for a career change. We talked to her and found out that she’d helped her son during lockdown with online tech courses run by Udemy; she had a feel for coding. We put her through our programme and she now works for a large public-sector organisation. We had pilots who worked for EasyJet until they were displaced by lockdown; they’re now software engineers. We’ve had ex professional footballers on our programme. It’s been a real mix of people, all underpinned by the fact that any individual who shows potential can go through our academy and processes to become a technologist.

In doing so, you create a more diverse workforce in tech.

Definitely. One example is with women in tech. Some areas of technology, such as software engineering, are over-dominated by men. That can make it intimidating for any women new to this area. We’ve sought to address that with, for example, a senior training programme that is only for women. We’re also getting people from different ethnic backgrounds, and people who are the first in their family to go to university. Even those who’ve been to universities outside the Russell Group may struggle to get on to the graduate programmes that are offered elsewhere. There can be that feeling that you don’t fit the right profile — that these highly skilled roles in tech are for people who are privately educated, the kinds of people who go skiing. It’s not true. I’m not from that background myself. We see the potential and aptitude in a much broader talent pool. It shouldn’t matter where you come from as long as you have the potential.

What do you look for in recruiting people?

We have an assessment process, looking for the kind of problem-solving skills and logical brain you need to become a good coder or software engineer. People might have done some coding in their spare time, or tried a Udemy course or videos on YouTube. They might have struggled with that, but the interest is evidently there.

You’re saying people are already keen to get into tech.

Yes, we see this all the time. There’s been a lot of criticism in the press recently of Generation Z [those born between the mid 1990s and 2010s], saying they’re lazy, still live at home and have no ambition. I don’t know if that’s just middle-class journalists writing about their own children but it’s not what we find at all in young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. They often have a very strong work ethic and a fire in their bellies to do well. Often, all they lack is the right break. They simply don’t know where to start in getting into these large, blue-chip organisations. They know they have no chance of getting on to the usual graduate programmes. Then they learn about us and think it’s too good to be true! We provide paid training from day one, they get a job as part of the programme and they’re deployed to blue-chip organisations, large government organisations, investment banks or wherever it may be.

The hire, train, deploy model generally has better outcomes for the individuals going through the programme. It’s good for the organisations, too, because it tends to mean greater retention and because of the rigour of the training and make-up of the individuals coming through.

What could central government do to support this kind of initiative?

The apprenticeship levy needs to be tweaked to allow for models like ours. As it is, I don’t think the apprenticeship model really works. A lot of the training is not fit for purpose and lacks the rigour that companies need, so they’re not taking on apprentices. They can’t use the levy funding on a model like ours so they end up not using it at all. That means that, for a lot of large companies, the apprenticeship levy has just become an additional tax they pay to the government. If the levy system was better structured and more flexible, the funding could be used to harness a wider range of talent here in the UK.

What about local government?

We already work with a lot of local government bodies. We run events and free workshops on things like interview preparation and industry insights. We’ve got an office in Birmingham as well as our base in London. There are other bodies looking at this skills issue at the local government level, too. But if this is of interest, get in touch.

David Rai, thank you.

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