Manchester Based S&A Group Launches National Software Testing Academy





The S&A Transform Group (The S&A Group), which recently invested over £1.5 million into three new specialised apprenticeship training academies  in tech, science, and business, expands its acclaimed software testing academy across the UK.


The decision to expand the Manchester headquartered S&A Software Testing Academy is in response to a rapidly growing crisis that is engulfing the software testing industry, where there are simply not enough quality assurance testers, release and delivery managers and site reliability engineers (SREs) maintaining modern cloud infrastructures.


The crisis was exacerbated through the pandemic when many UK companies were forced to rapidly accelerate and advance their digital technology programmes to ensure business continuity and adapt to the global shift. This meant many companies were rolling out technology programmes without robust enough testing, and with that came software defects and systems failures affecting millions of customers.


The magnitude of the software testing crisis facing British businesses was evident in the financial services industry recently, when the former Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the TSB Bank was fined a record £81,000 over the bank’s 2018 IT meltdown and software failure, which left millions of customers locked out of their bank accounts. The bank itself was fined £48m for “widespread and serious” failings related to the incident.  In one of many other high-profile cases, over 700 Post Office branch managers were also wrongly prosecuted between 2000 and 2014 for fraud. Many of those were convicted and wrongly sent to jail due to a massive IT and software failure of the Horizon software system built by Japanese firm Fujitsu. It was one of the biggest and most widespread miscarriages of justice in UK legal history.


Software testing is crucial to how every single piece of technology that we use in our daily lives functions and operates. When we have a glitch in our computers, a website crashes, or a credit card machine doesn’t work, it is often caused by software not working due to programming errors which could have been identified before release. Software testing is vital to ensure that all the software that drives our devices and tech we use in everything from our computers to mobile phones, cars, websites, ATMs, and credit card machines all work and function smoothly. When a software error emerges after release, rather than through robust testing, the impact can have catastrophic consequences.


The Software Testing Academy will commence its next national programme in June and will last circa 18 months for those wishing to embark on an apprenticeship and career in software testing, or quality engineering, as it is known. The academy is open to new entrants or to those who are currently employed and wanting to upskill and reskill through the apprenticeship levy scheme. Career changing skills can be learnt through innovative training approaches, such as an immersive, upfront fulltime ‘bootcamp’ of rapid learning. Thus, enabling employers to benefit from their new employees testing skills almost immediately.


Chief Product & Innovation Officer

for The S&A Group, Laurence “Floz” Martin, who constructed the academy and course syllabus, and has led the previous Manchester based testing academies, believes that the S&A Software Testing Academy programme is truly unique and ground-breaking in its approach.


“Apprentices joining our software testing academy will gain both the ISTQB Foundation and the L4 Apprenticeship qualifications, which are Internationally recognised, with programming skills and test frameworks to test right across the software development cycle, equipping apprentices with both theory and skills to become an accredited test engineer. “The hands-on coding and test automation exercises are backed by numerous innovative samples and the course theory is uniquely filled with more than 1,100 software testing-related components that we have built specifically for our apprenticeships. Our front loaded bootcamp includes a substantive team project to test a proprietary software system so that when our apprentices enter their workplace environment, they have already war-gamed actual real-world scenarios.


Laurence “Floz” Martin has been involved in tech and software development for nearly 30 years, developing software programmes for other programmers for more than 20 of those years, before becoming an IT trainer and contractor across multiple industries as an engineer and mentor. He is now Chief Product & Innovation Officer at The S&A Group, one of the UK’s leading challenger consulting firms. The S&A Transform Group, a sister company of The S&A Academy, specialises in large-scale business, technology, and digital transformation.


Martin added:


“One of the key examples we cite in the training of our apprentices is that of the Post Office Horizon software scandal and the serious real-world implications this can have. The Horizon software system was not tested properly, and the system contained defects that caused financial accounting errors at Post Offices across the country over several years. This led to over 700 post masters and post mistresses being wrongly accused of theft and fraud, many of whom were convicted and sent to prison ruining people’s lives. This led to one of the biggest legal battles with the Post Office agreeing to settle with 555 claimants and pay £58m in damages, with more expected to go through the courts.”


In a recent survey, it was revealed that 85% of US CEOs and 69% of UK CEOs could be leaving their businesses open to reputational and financial risks by releasing insufficiently tested software, with over 77% stating that software failures had harmed their company’s reputation in the past five years. Alarmingly, over 79% of IT professionals admitted that as much as 40% of software goes to market without sufficient testing. More than 34% of CEOs also cited under-investment in software testing personnel.


Darren Coomer, CEO and founder of The S&A Group

is a highly experienced CxO with more than three decades of cutting-edge tech and business experience. Coomer, who has overseen global IT programmes and digital transformations for many institutions, can speak with first-hand knowledge as a provider, buyer and subcontractor of IT, data, and software testing services.


“The reputational damage that can impact a company from a software failure is immense. When a major software failure happens, the adverse effects on a company’s customers means everyone, including the Board, will be held accountable. Not only can this severely impact a business in terms of reputation, but it can also mean severe financial losses, regulatory fines, and even personal fines against accountable individuals.


“We only have to look at the IT systems failure of the TSB Bank in 2018, when millions of customers were locked out of their accounts as the bank’s software and operating system went into meltdown. This impacted the bank with a £48m fine for serious failings and saw the TSB’s Chief Information Officer fined a record £81,000. There are serious repercussions for CIOs and CTOs if their software testing is not regularly and robustly tested.


“This also highlights a bigger issue for the IT industry with the offshoring of ‘software testing’, whereby a small part of the software testing is done in the UK and then the rest is outsourced to other countries in an attempt to minimise costs. In the end, this often becomes a false economy and has serious implications for IT projects. We wanted to reduce businesses reliance on offshore resources and high-cost consultancies, so we focused our Academy business on offering our professional software testing courses nationally. Thus, enabling UK companies to ‘grow their own’ software test talent utilising our free recruitment and apprenticeship training.


The S&A Academy has three specialised training academies: Technology & Digital, Science & Laboratory, and Business & Leadership. Each provides personalised professional training and apprenticeships, as well as bespoke course creation and certification programmes for global corporate clients. The training academy is a sister company of The S&A Group, one of the UK’s leading challenger consulting firms, which specialises in large-scale business, technology, and digital transformation.


As Head of The S&A Technology Academy, Dean Smith oversees the commercial and apprenticeship training products, and delivery for all the S&A tech, digital, cloud and data programmes and believes that the latest iteration of the testing apprenticeship is ahead of the curve in future proofing testing skill sets.


“The course is designed to constantly evolve. It incorporates relevant academic principles and qualifications alongside industry-standard knowledge, professional practices, tools, and testing technologies. It has been co-designed by industry experienced testers, professional instructors and 3rd party professional testing organisations. Our unique approach equips apprentices with soft skills and mind-set awareness training, which is reinforced through activities and team exercises to produce well-rounded, multi-skilled, work-ready software test engineers.”


The S&A Academies were founded by digital and technology transformation czar Darren Coomer, who has helped many boards navigate major business transformations, drive innovation and shift to customer-focused, digital-first strategies, whilst all the time maintaining a clear focus on the need to constantly recruit and train new talent. He is credited with many large-scale transformations in global corporates, as well as launching pioneering products in fintech and the blockchain/Web3 world, either as a founder/entrepreneur, or on behalf of major corporations.

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