As part of our mission to encourage more people into cyber security careers, we’d like to highlight businesses in the North East who are nurturing the next generation of talent in the region. The Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) is one such organisation. They offer degree apprenticeships in Digital and Technology.

So we went to find out more about what’s involved and to speak to one of their graduates who is now flourishing in her new role as part of the cyber security team.

Degree Apprenticeships at Northumbrian Water Group

It might shock you to learn that NWG’s rising star cyber security graduate isn’t a natural techie nor was she selected to join the cyber security team because of her technical skills. 

Emily Tomlinson stands next to a glass window in a corridor at the Northumbrian Water office (photo: Unscripted Photography)

Emily Tomlinson came to the attention of the cyber security team through her participation in the Digital Degree Apprenticeship scheme at NWG.

Although cyber security is only one module within the degree, it is still a huge part of technology life at NWG and therefore the group ensures that students have access to the department and its practices. 

Emily herself tells us that she didn’t initially target cyber security as an area of interest but once she had finished her degree the opportunity arose and she took the chance to join the team.

Anthony Smith, Head of Cyber Security at NWG, says she wasn’t asked because of her technical ability but because her other skills really stood out. Her good communication and interpersonal skills shone through and showed that she could collaborate and get things done. Skills that are often overlooked but absolutely essential for success as part of a team.

Emily is adamant that the key to getting the most out of a degree apprenticeship is to be open to opportunities, be keen to learn and have an open mind about gaining experience. She says, “don’t be blinkered to what you think the job might entail as you run the risk of boxing yourself in too early and closing the door to other fantastic opportunities in the organisation.”

She suggests that joining a bigger company may provide more opportunities if you are unsure what you want to do or don’t want to specialise. Bigger companies are more likely to have more projects to be involved in that will expose you to lots of different skills and experience.

The reputation and name of The Northumbrian Water Group was indeed a pull for Emily. 

Northumbrian Water Group logo

The Graduate Experience

When we asked why she decided to go into cyber security, she told us that she felt that cyber security sounded much more interesting and that she could see that there were lots of opportunities to explore.

Her background didn’t start with an interest in tech either. She didn’t take IT subjects at school and didn’t go to uni or want the university experience so when she saw the option of a degree apprenticeship at NWG it seemed the perfect fit. The prospect of getting a degree, getting paid and coming out with a job at the end of it seemed to be a no-brainer.

She says she knew she needed to stand out in other ways because she didn’t have the technical background or skills that she thought would be essential in a technical apprenticeship but technical skills are not the only skills companies look for in their graduates.

So has she got any advice for those who might be interested in pursuing a degree apprenticeship?

Yes, and it’s simple: “Just go for it” she tells us. “It’s hard work but definitely worth it. It might not be what you think it’ll be but it might be better.”

“You’re getting practical experience, a degree, you’re being paid and you come out debt free. 

If you’re not interested in the full university experience then a degree apprenticeship could be a great fit.”

In her opinion, Emily says that she really enjoyed that it was only one day at uni and four days in the office as it gave her more exposure to the office and a working environment. It enabled her to experience a mix and range of topics, gaining practical skills and learning how to collaborate on projects; all of which she says you don’t get at uni.  

She says it’s worked well for her so it should work well for you. You get out what you put in so just apply and see what happens. Even if you decide that it isn’t for you – you get work experience and a degree and there are plenty of other opportunities to explore once you’re in. And cyber security salaries tend to be good too, which helps.

The Benefits to Northumbrian Water

The benefits for businesses are also significant. NWG considers them to be a great way to access a different demographic and widen the diversity within their team. They told us that IT tends to attract the same sort of people and as a business they typically have a long-tenured workforce, which brings a lot of experience but also only explores one perspective. The degree apprenticeships bring in young, fresh talent and a diversity of skills. It is also particularly good at attracting the female side of the population as well as those from a neurodiverse background, whose skills can be of great value in certain roles across IT.

In their last cohort, the business had more applications from females than males, which is evidence that it is helping to buck the trend.

Their mantra, hiring for attitude; training for skill, is manifested through their degree apprenticeship schemes and couldn’t be more true for Emily.

Northumbrian Water’s Digital Degree Apprenticeship opens for applications on 5 February 2024 with a start date for September 2024.  Check out their Early Careers website for more information:

If you would like to find out more about degree apprenticeships either as an employer or a student, get in touch and we’ll be happy to talk to you further: