With a desire to gain real responsibility after leaving school, Ryan Coram turned down top university offers to pursue a degree apprenticeship with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca
In just under two years, Ryan has become an award-winning apprentice working on global projects, specialising in architecture and technology. He has also met the CEO to share ideas for the expansion of the company’s apprenticeship offer.
Gaining real responsibilities
Ryan was a strong student set to attend university to study social sciences, receiving offers from York and Chester. However, he was keen to start work and gain independence straight away, and soon realised that full time higher education wasn’t the right choice. After hearing about AstraZeneca’s Digital & Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship at school, he applied straight away.
“I wanted to stand on my own two feet and have real responsibility, but without university debt,” Ryan explains. “AstraZeneca encouraged me to apply despite the fact I didn’t have IT, Business or Science A-levels. I knew I wanted to be there just by being in their building.”
After overcoming a tough recruitment process including interviews, presentations and group activities, Ryan was accepted and started in August 2016. By August 2019, Ryan will have graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a Bachelor of Science in Digital Technology Solutions and, alongside his degree, will have built up four years of valuable industry experience.
Delivering global projects
His first two years at AstraZeneca comprised of four six-month rotations in different departments, with four days in the office and one day at university each week. Ryan’s responsibilities have ranged from monitoring the successful delivery of numerous projects as part of the finance team, to becoming a training lead and global delivery manager for the business’s Smart IT system, helping to implement the programme in countries such as Japan, Mexico, Dubai and the US. He has found the variation really stimulating: “You’ve got real freedom to explore different departments and AstraZeneca try to match your interests as closely as possible.”
Ryan found the transition to full-time work a steep learning curve but enjoyed the challenge and fast-paced nature of the role, quickly finding his rhythm and relishing more responsibility: “A lot of my first year was focused on settling into business life and managing my academic commitments, learning important core skills like prioritisation and time management,” he recalls. “In my second year I moved into a new team and was given lots more responsibility, which I loved.”
Ryan is thriving in such a challenging and rewarding role and says that one early encounter stays with him: “On my first day at AstraZeneca, they told us they’d treat us like a Ferrari, challenging us like they would a sports car. It’s always stuck in my mind and that’s when I knew this was the apprenticeship for me.”
Meeting the CEO
The biggest challenges Ryan has faced have been managing the academic demands of the course while learning to operate effectively in a global business space. Ryan describes the support he’s received as “unbelievable”, with a range of academic, professional and wellbeing mentors to help him succeed.
Overcoming these professional and academic challenges has helped transform Ryan’s confidence. He explains: “I’ve learnt to become a lot more assertive in meetings and have had fantastic public speaking experience, with a highlight including a presentation to over one hundred employees—including a vice president—on virtual reality innovation at one of AstraZeneca’s science units in Cambridge.”
Reflecting on how he has changed since starting his apprenticeship, Ryan explains: “My confidence and communications skills have really improved, both in and out of work. When I came in I was quite quiet but I’ve really come out of my shell—and this has been reflected in the level of responsibility I’ve been given.”
Ryan’s career highlights so far include meeting chief executive Pascal Soriot: “I was given the opportunity to speak to him about apprenticeships and the work we were doing. We talked to him about the importance of apprenticeships in AstraZeneca and what we do every day.”
Ryan’s progress was further recognised when he was crowned Higher or Degree Apprentice of the Year for the Northwest at the National Apprenticeship Awards 2017. On top of these achievements, earning a salary while learning has also been a bonus for him. Ryan says: “A big factor in my decision to pursue an apprenticeship was that I’d avoid any student debt—now I’ve been able to buy my own car and I’m saving to buy a home too.”
For those with ambition
Following his different placements, Ryan has discovered a passion for technology and is currently building his experience within AstraZeneca’s architecture team. He’s hoping to consolidate his learning and become an architectural project lead in a few years, with a long-term ambition of having ownership of technology and architectural projects for the business.
Ryan regularly visits his old school to talk to students about apprenticeships, which has resulted in real interest and students asking him about internship options. He says that having the confidence to make yourself heard is one of the most important lessons learnt so far, and that given his time again he would have told himself to be more confident from the outset: “I’d have put myself out there more and be bolder in sharing my views,” he explains. “My advice for anyone considering an apprenticeship would be to bring your own personality into your role—don’t be scared to try new things.”
Ryan strongly believes apprenticeships can work for everyone, regardless of whether they’re pursuing a degree or vocational path: “Ultimately, apprenticeships are for anyone with ambition who wants to learn and progress,” Ryan says. “I even know people who have started at university but dropped out to pursue a degree apprenticeship after hearing about my experience!”
Looking back, Ryan says that had he not taken up his apprenticeship he would have gone to university but says: “I know I’ve definitely made the right choice.”