Kickstart your career in tech with Liberty IT

  • Colin Higgins, Learning & Development Manager at Liberty IT, reflects on the company’s recently redesigned TechStart Academy.

    Q. What is Liberty IT’s TechStart Academy?

    Our TechStart Academy is a combination of three programmes designed specifically for entry-level employees, ranging from those leaving secondary education, completing third-level education, or retraining from a different industry or role.

    Through TechStart’s inclusive and engaging programme of learning and connections, we aim to support our diverse teams through their early careers at Liberty IT.

    We have programmes for three career stages – Apprentices, Interns and Graduates, and each one has its own dedicated learning journey, designed to focus on developing the skills needed by the employees at that point in their career.

    Q. Over 40 graduates joined the programme in 2023 and a further 60 will join later this year. What can they expect to learn and achieve during their time in TechStart?

    The programme starts with a 12-week academy delivered in our Belfast office, where we have created a dedicated floor for our new starts to learn, connect, have 1-2-1s and socialise. There is also the opportunity to work from home to complete some self-paced learning.

    The TechStart Academy blends technical, career and business education through training and on-the-job learning. So whilst we cover programming languages and technical skills which are really important to our engineers, we also cover an array of other skills which are also needed such as cloud engineering, data, testing and deployment, agile methodology, security and much more.

    We want to support our teams through their transition from student life into working life and arm them with the right skills to thrive. We’ve developed modules on professional and business skills, such as communication, time management, personal effectiveness and building networks.

    Business integration is also very important. Our employee research told us new joiners are thirsty to learn about our business of Insurtech, as well as our technology organisation. We have welcomed a long list of guest speakers to share their stories and experiences with our teams about the different areas within the business, the technologies they use and the impact they have across the globe. These sessions provide great insight into life at Liberty IT. Last year we also had some VIPs drop in, including none other than Tim Sweeney, the CEO of our parent company, Liberty Mutual Insurance.

    Q. Tell us more about the TechStart Apprenticeship?

    We have engaged in various apprenticeship schemes since 2015. In 2022, we reviewed all  of our entry-level programmes, validated with our teams and developed an enhanced experience of learning and connection.  

    We spent a number of months in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance identifying learning needs analysis and feedback. We researched industry best practices and built deep academic partnerships to understand the different Apprentice offerings.

    We wanted the programme to be an Entry-Level route into the technology world, attracting a diverse range of candidates from across the island of Ireland.

    We currently have eight new apprentices who joined in September 2023 - seven of which are completing their HLA Level 6 apprenticeship in conjunction with Ulster University. They will complete a 4.5-year degree whilst gaining valuable practical experience and earning as they go along.

    We have another Apprentice who is taking a different apprentice route. She has previous experience in the IT sector and is a returner to the industry. We are piloting a bespoke learning journey which will give her all the skills she needs to thrive in her career as a Software Engineer. As this is a new pilot, we hope to develop it further to support the needs of future diverse applications.

    Over the past number of years, we have supported approximately 30 employees through various apprenticeship schemes. Two of our former apprentices have recently been promoted to Engineering Managers. They are now responsible for managing and leading teams, delivering projects and ensuring our engineering practices are at a high level.

    There are others who are also developing their careers across the organisation and performing at the Senior Software Engineer level. We are proud to invest heavily in our programmes and the talent taking part in them, to give a unique insight into a career with Liberty IT and help each participant realise their full potential.

    Q. What are the advantages of apprenticeships compared with the traditional graduate entry pathways into a software company such as Liberty IT?

    Becoming an apprentice with Liberty IT offers several advantages compared to taking the more traditional university pathway.

    Here are some key advantages that our current employees have told us:

    Earn while you learn: As an apprentice, you are employed by Liberty IT for the duration of the programme and earn a salary, whilst gaining practical on-the-job training. This allows apprentices to start earning and becoming financially independent at an early stage of their careers.

    Industry-specific skills: Apprentices are provided with hands-on training in a specific industry, allowing them to develop practical skills that are directly applicable to their career

    Recognised qualifications: Most Apprentices gain a recognised qualification through Ulster University, which ensures that their learning is accredited by a professional body and they can achieve a BSc in Computing Studies in 4.5 years

    Supportive learning environment: Working with Ulster University and our Liberty IT business partners, our apprentices participate in a defined and structured training program, with dedicated managers, mentors and supervisors who provide guidance and support throughout their learning journey. This support system enables them to thrive and succeed.

    Real-world experience: By collaborating with experienced professionals, apprentices gain valuable real-world experience and develop the professional skills necessary for success in the workplace. Through a dedicated learning path, our Apprentices also develop skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication skills and personal effectiveness.

    Q. Having completed the apprenticeship, what qualifications will successful applicants achieve and are there opportunities to gain further professional or academic qualifications within the business?

    Our current Apprentices will complete a BSc in Computing Studies, studying one day per week at university and the other four days working in Liberty IT. They will also have a dedicated training programme within Liberty IT to ensure that all the relevant skills are developed throughout the four years.

    If they continue to develop and excel in their practical skills and grades at university, they will also have the opportunity to secure permanent employment with Liberty IT after two years. This also comes with the added bonus of being promoted to Associate Software Engineer and also qualifies them to participate in the TechStart Graduate Programme.

    Once an Associate Software Engineer, they will then be able to advance their careers through our Self Nominated Process.

    All Liberty IT employees have access to a wide range of learning opportunities through our self-paced learning platforms including LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight, O’Reilly and Udacity, as well as instructor-led training on technical training and professional skills and so much more.

    To further enhance the learning experience we offer coaching, mentoring, tech talks, hackathons, conferences, assignments, certifications and much more. All employees have access to the right education, experiences and exposure to develop their careers at Liberty IT.

    Q. What are the most rewarding aspects of forging a career in software engineering?

    A career in Liberty IT as a software engineer can be highly rewarding. Here are some of the most rewarding aspects that our employees inform us of:

    Problem Solving - Software engineering involves solving complex problems and finding creative solutions. The satisfaction of tackling challenging issues and seeing your solutions come to life can be incredibly rewarding.

    Continuous Learning – The industry is constantly evolving and requires continuous learning. This is fulfilling as you are acquiring new knowledge and skills. There are always new technologies, frameworks, and programming languages to explore, allowing for personal and professional growth.

    Innovation - Software Engineers have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the world. They can develop innovative solutions that improve people's lives, streamline processes, and transform industries.

    Collaboration and Teamwork - Software engineering often involves working collaboratively in teams. This allows for engaging with diverse perspectives, learning from others, and collectively achieving goals.

    Global Impact - Software engineering has a global impact. As Liberty Mutual Insurance is a global organisation, the solutions we provide can be used across the world. Technology transcends boundaries, and software engineers have the opportunity to work on projects that have a worldwide reach.

    Q. For anyone who thinks working within software engineering is simply all about ‘coding’ can you talk more about the diverse roles and opportunities that are available to new employees once they complete the TechStart programme?

    Yes, Liberty IT is mainly a Software Engineering organisation and approximately 70% of our employees work in this area. But Engineering is much more than just software development or coding, and whilst there are elements that focus on writing code and implementing software solutions, a software engineer takes a more comprehensive approach. They not only write code but also analyse, design, and plan the software system as a whole. They consider various factors such as scalability, performance, security, and maintainability.

    Software engineers have a broader set of responsibilities. They take a holistic view of the software development process, including requirements gathering, system design, architecture, project management, and quality assurance.

    There are a wide range of roles that you can potentially progress onto from Software Engineering. You can still remain in the engineering roles and venture into data, AI / MLOps, cloud or cybersecurity engineering. Or focus on deepening your technical knowledge in roles such as Solutions Engineer or Architect.

    Whichever path you choose, Liberty IT offers the right support to ensure that you are successful.

    For further information on Liberty IT’s TechStart programmes, go to Our Apprentice program is open for 2025 intake.

    This article appears in the skills, education and tech careers edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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