By adopting a ‘work from home’ strategy before the first Covid-19 lockdown, technology firm CGI is now reaping the benefits of their swift transition with impressive results in remote recruitment and training. By Nan Spowart

 

STARTING a new job is often daunting at the best of times but during a pandemic it’s even more unnerving.

For students leaving school and university for their first full time job, it can be a bewildering prospect to start working from home rather than in an office, but companies like CGI are doing their best to orientate, guide and train their recruits throughout the lockdowns and restrictions.

Rather than stop recruiting, CGI took a positive decision to continue its programmes and, as a technology firm, was able to move swiftly to remote recruitment and training.

The company also decided to move to online working in advance of the first lockdown which graduate apprentice Cara Bullock believes helped her to adjust without some of the panic felt by employees at other companies suddenly told to work at home.

“It was good because it did not feel like an emergency and there was no scramble to send people devices or teach them how to use new tools because we already had all that,” said Cara, from Aberdeenshire.

Now 25, she joined CGI in 2015 as a modern apprentice before transitioning to become a graduate apprentice and has just qualified with a degree in IT Management for Business from Napier University.

During her first and second year she spent one day each week at Napier but two thirds of her third year and her entire fourth year were during the pandemic, meaning she had to continue her studies online. While she missed being able to use the university library, she says the silver lining was the amount of time she had to study as she was unable to take the holidays she had planned because of the pandemic.

“I had definitely underestimated all the work I was going to have to do for university and if I had done all the things I had planned to do in summer 2020 I would have struggled a bit,” says Cara.

Maria Whittingham, who joined in 2014, is now a recruitment specialist for the early careers team, recruiting graduates and apprentices for CGI from across the UK.

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“It has been different but one thing that has been really rewarding is that CGI has continued to recruit throughout the pandemic, which is reassuring when a lot of companies aren’t,” she says. “We are planning to recruit a lot more students again this year so we are growing coming out of the pandemic as well.”

She says the transition to remote recruiting, training and working was relatively smooth as there had already been an element of hybrid working within CGI.

“We had to change from face-to-face assessments and inductions to virtual ones to welcome the students whereas before they would have been in person, but overall it has gone really well,” Maria says.

There have even been some benefits. “It has actually given us quite a lot of opportunities to change things for the better which we might not have done if the pandemic had not happened,” says Maria. “We’ve changed the structure of the inductions so they are split over the course of the first week rather than the first two days, meaning the students can pair their learning with meeting their teams.

“There has not been any impact to their learning either, as the learning and development team translated all their classroom-based training to virtual training so the students weren’t just bombarded by power-points. Some of our processes have definitely become more efficient and the feedback has been really good.”

While the graduates and apprentices may have missed out on going into the office to learn the ropes, a buddy system was already in place to help recruits make the transition easily to working life.

“Having a buddy means they are able to ask questions they may not want to bother their manager with, and we also have student representatives for each office who are responsible for organising social events like meeting up virtually for quizzes and that sort of thing,” says Maria.

“In some ways the social side has actually become more accessible for everyone, as those who might have missed out before because they have to travel home from the office are now always able to take part.”

A graduate of  computer science from Glasgow Caledonian University, Shaun Cooper started with CGI between lockdowns last summer and has only been in the office a couple of times.

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Training was “definitely different” because it was through video calls, but he thinks it was no more difficult than it would have been in an office.

“Support is really good as everyone is happy to help out through Teams or if you drop them a message,” says the 23-year-old from Coatbridge. 

“It’s a great place to learn as they are not expecting you to walk in and know everything - they help you build your skills up and how they have supported their employees during the pandemic has been fantastic. They have not been pushing anyone to go back into the office but have been taking account of what the employees are saying.  It really does feel the company’s employees are heard and not just ignored.”
 

www.cgi.com/uk

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'It’s great to be able to support someone else’

CGI’s ‘buddy system’ has been an effective method of settling new starts into their roles and working life

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REBECCA Walker started her first full time job last August but has not been in the office other than on the day of her assessment before the pandemic hit the UK. 

However Rebecca, who has a Masters in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Glasgow, believes the online start at CGI has been no more nerve-wracking than any new job in “normal” times.

“It was scary at first because it was my first full time job but the support has been really good,” she says. 

“Even before my start date, the HR team called me every few weeks to make sure everything was okay. 

“It was good to know someone was there and you could ask silly questions. They also sent out all the equipment to our homes and we had an induction week with the other new starts in Scotland with presentations, information and some training. 

“After that I began working with my team and they have been really supportive. 

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“The team managers are very approachable and very friendly. I was told as soon as I started that no question is ever a silly question and that was good to know because sometimes you just want to know basic things.

“We had boot camps every Friday for six weeks where specialists within the company came and give us an overview of topics like software engineering. That was another way to give us exposure to different areas of CGI’s work.

“Another key thing was a student programme where we were put into teams to create a corporate social responsibility project. 

“Our team created two BAME themed STEM packs for children which are now on CGI’s external website.”

Rebecca has also been paired with another colleague who is not in her team and who checks in with her every few weeks to make sure all is well.

“If there are any issues with work or my team I can speak to her so it is another great support,” Rebecca says. 

“I was also given a buddy on my team and she has always more than happy to help.” Now that a new set of graduates has joined the company, Rebecca is acting as a buddy for one of them.

“It’s great to be able to support someone else,” she says.

Now used to working from home, Rebecca credits the support she has been given for helping her to settle in.

“I know what I need to do and I’m comfortable with my role and I know where I need to go if I need support,” she says. 

“I will maybe meet the rest of team for a Christmas team meal and of course I am looking forward to seeing people face to face in the office as things change.

“However, there is a good reason we are all working from home and I am happy to do it.”