The pioneer helping make Gloucestershire College a leader in IT and cyber apprenticeships

As an apprentice engineer, Mikela Lowthian was one of just a few women in her chosen field. Now a vastly experienced trainer, she is the apprenticeship manager for IT and cyber at Gloucestershire College — at the heart of one of the most exciting sectors in the UK.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Mikela Lowthian, who is responsible for Gloucestershire College’s apprenticeships in IT and cyber.

When it comes to training apprenticeships, there will be few who know as much as Mikela Lowthian, who is responsible for Gloucestershire College’s apprenticeships in IT and cyber, a sector seen as increasingly significant for the county's future.

As well as rebuilding itself from the ground up with three new campuses in Gloucester, Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean, the college is now the foremost provider of apprenticeships in all sorts of sectors.

And it is in IT and cyber that it has made some of its most exciting strides, investing millions in its ADA (Advanced Digital Academy) IT suite, launching a degree apprenticeship in partnership with UWE and forging strong links to the influential Gloucestershire cyber business group, CyNam.

As a sector, cyber is determined to attract more women and, in Lowthian, it has someone familiar with those challenges; she began her own career as an apprentice engineer in a male-dominated era, standing out so much she was eventually put in charge of training, excelling in that role, too.

‘I was originally an apprentice back in the day for Xerox — an electrical/electronic engineering apprenticeship. In its prime, 4,500 people worked there. It was a four-year apprenticeship,’ said Lowthian, reflecting on her time at the former Forest of Dean Rank Xerox factory, in existence from the 1960s to 2003.

‘We had so many opportunities for learning, it was impressive and after completing your apprenticeship you had good opportunities in the company. I went from being first an electrician to eventually going into working in the training department.’

She added: ‘Apprenticeships have gone full circle. When I started, becoming an apprentice was a good thing. Then apprenticeships went through a bit of a lull. There were a lot of bad products just to get bums on seats rather than deliver a good experience.

‘After Xerox, I went to work for GET (Gloucestershire Engineering Training). There the emphasis was back where it should be, about getting people ready for employment, and understanding what an individual company wanted and what skills the apprentice needed to be productive and to progress.

'This is exactly how we approach things at Gloucestershire College.’

The high bar set by the college, in particular in IT and cyber apprenticeships, has not gone unnoticed by the government.

Gillian Keegan, the then Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, launched the college’s cyber apprenticeship degree in September 2020 and in 2022, the Rt Hon Julia Lopez MP, then Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, visited, praising the £3 million cyber training centre (ADA).

‘The investment in apprentices and apprenticeship training the college has made is incredible. The facility it has in Cheltenham, for example, to do with cyber is state-of-the-art,’ said Lowthian.

‘We offer Level 3 to Level 6 apprenticeships in IT and cyber and deliver the cyber integrated degree apprenticeships, too – in collaboration with the University of the West of England, which has NCSC accreditation and tech industry gold accreditation.

'In 23/24 we are launching two new apprenticeships to support the growing skills demand in the sector: Dev Ops Engineer Level 4 and Digital and Technology Solutions (Software Engineer) Level 6 Degree apprenticeships.

‘The opportunities going forward for that industry to grow are phenomenal. It is brilliant to be at the forefront of it all.

‘I remain a firm advocate of apprenticeships. I see them as once again an excellent way to launch your career or progress it.’

She added: ‘If you are going down the apprenticeship route you need to be employed. Apprentices need to have a company that they are working for.

'To support this as Gloucestershire’s leading training provider we work with many local employers, whether they are looking to bring a fresh new apprentice into the organisation or want to use apprenticeships to train and develop their existing staff. 

‘Our website has a lot of useful information for employers and prospective apprentices and that is a good place to start to look. Our Employer Training & Apprenticeship team can be contacted for any advice about apprenticeships across a range of sectors too.'

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