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It started with a washing machine: introducing our new Apprentice Champion

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washing machine and welliesApprenticeships are the second best option? Something to do if a university place doesn’t work out? Not in my experience! It’s about opportunity and unlimited scope.

I’m Andy Ward, the HMRC Digital Apprentice Champion - a new role to me and not hard to explain – I champion Apprenticeships. I’m really excited about it as my route to being an Enterprise Architect for one of the UK’s most digital businesses has not been conventional, but it has been a logical progression.

The washing machine

For me it all started when I was 12. My mum’s washing machine was broken so I decided to fix it by taking it apart! My mum's face was a classic but I don’t remember her ever actually telling me I couldn’t try. OK I got the occasional Paddington 'hard stare' but never an outright no. Luckily I got the washing machine back together and amazingly it worked!

Now just take a moment to consider something. There was no internet or YouTube to show me how others did it – I just took it apart, learning what joined with what as I went. I didn’t win an award or extra pocket money. My mum’s face was enough, along with a huge dose of what I later realised was professional pride.

My first break

By 16 years old I knew what I wanted to do: engineering. With a clutch of CSEs (pre GCSEs and with Technical Drawing and Electronics amongst them) I embarked on being a Telecoms Trainee for Standard Telephones and Cables. Along with my ironically rich engineering heritage* which I brought with me, they provided a broad technical education via Engineering Industry Training Board**, a City & Guilds Mechanical/Electrical/Electronic qualification, and three years’ work experience!

By 21 I was the National Customer Care Manager for what became Alcatel Telecom and I had over 30 people working directly for me who, in turn, managed the work of 150+ field engineers across the UK. By the age of 25 I had outsourced the whole operation to a company on the Isle of Bute, and by 30 I was representing the UK as part of the company’s European re-engineering of their customer services programme. From there I became the transformation lead. And here I am now, an Enterprise Architect leading a work stream on the project to embed DevOps in our engineering organisation.

Everyone needs opportunity

I guess what I’m trying to highlight is ‘opportunity’. I had the enthusiasm, I was gaining the ‘big school’ qualifications, and importantly I had the interest. But I still needed opportunity. I needed the broken washing machine to take apart and understand how it worked. I needed my mum’s undying faith in me not to injure myself or her.

I then needed an ‘apprenticeship’ to hone my skills - not only to provide qualifications but also great early years’ experience. I needed the Service Director to have a conversation with the General Manager to put me in the position of a hugely developmental role at the age of 21. I needed a visionary transformation programme to listen and adopt my ideas and enthusiasm. I needed change and opportunity.

Apprentice Champion

As an Apprentice Champion my role is to help all our apprentices make the most out of the scheme. It is to help them remove barriers, enable great things and to make sure there is ‘opportunity’.  I hold dear all that I have experienced and the barriers knocked down by all those that helped me, so I want to do the same for others.

If you’re an apprentice, or even thinking about becoming one, and you have any ideas or suggestions then I want to hear from you. If you’re a public sector manager and need convincing – contact me now!

Head image of Andy Ward standing on a railway platformAndy Ward, HMRC Digital - Apprentice Champion LinkedIn  Twitter

*my family history goes back to Sir Charles Wheatstone who was friends with Faraday and pretty much invented the telephone – so it is in my blood, …and hands 🙂 !

** Engineering Industry Training Board ended in 1991 and was replaced by SEMTA


HMRC digital run several apprenticeship schemes. Find out more and how to apply in Earn while you learn with HMRC digital apprenticeships


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  1. Comment by Andy posted on

    Hi Gareth and thank you so much for your support. Yes! …and we need more great stories. These bring it all to life, the challenges and the benefits. I am keen on picking up more on stories such as mine as some of the benefits can be very long term (in my case 41 years from the washing machine episode!) - Investing in apprentices is long term and weighed against the challenges it becomes even more worthwhile. The great thing about government apprenticeships is that it becomes an investment in our economy as we are able to look much longer term and across the UK. I want us all to get out and support the cause with our stories - I am counting you 'in' from your comment 😉 Again, thank you!"

  2. Comment by Gareth E posted on

    Great to hear your story and hear that you're an Apprentice Champion. I think there is still a great deal of confusion about what apprentices are, what they can bring and what support they need. I would love to see mandatory training across the board for all employees (similar to diversity training) to help us all understand how to capitalize on the value that apprentices can bring, given the right opportunities. If it's successful it could even be monetized and sold to external companies 🙂

  3. Comment by Andy posted on

    Ha Thanks Peter – yes he did invent the concertina and the keyed flute, but not quite America but he can claim transatlantic communication – he was very interested in the transmission of sound which led to his Wheatstone Bridge and modern telegraphy and Telecoms! I was incredibly proud to start my career at STC/ITT and then ICL and ultimately Alcatel which linked with Nortel, Lucent and now Nokia! I have walked in so many great engineering footsteps such as Wheatstones #luckylad #happylad. Great to have your support Peter – I will be in touch

  4. Comment by Peter Karran posted on

    I thought Wheatstone invented the concertina; but I agree that HMRC is on the leading edge of the digital revolution albeit built on another British engineering miracle VME: the beam engine of IT. Did you discover America?

  5. Comment by Hannah posted on

    This is a fantastic inspirational article, Andy. I hear lots of stories of people waiting for a career path or opportunity to be put in front of them, and of the inevitable disappointment or confusion when this doesn't happen. Your story is one of finding your own path and bravely pursuing opportunity wherever you saw it. Very cool. 🙂

  6. Comment by Pooja posted on


    Thank you sharing your story. It is brave act and by making it personal now people know more about you than your work.

    I know it will be inspirational to lots of people and I agree "creating an opportunity" for people is one of the key intiatives towards capability building.

    Talent is everywhere and opportunity is not and our apprenticeship scheme is creating those opportunities for our talented people to harness their talent.

    Congratulations on becoming a HMRC Digital - Apprenticeship Champion.

  7. Comment by Clare Searle posted on

    I agree Andy. Opportunity is key! Right place, right time, right faith in yourself, right faith in others!