National Apprenticeship Week: a different path to the same destination

An apprenticeship can give the next generation of civil engineers a huge leg up, and position them for a successful career a lot earlier on.

This is the view of Will Wood, 21, who joined Seymour Civil Engineering in September 2012 as a Management Trainee apprentice, alongside studying for a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment at the College.

Will Wood

Since then, Will (left) has gone on to complete a HNC in Civil Engineering through the College and is currently working towards a BEng (Hons) degree in Civil Engineering at Teesside University.

To help celebrate National Apprenticeship Week (NAW2018), Will spoke to The Student Engineer about the positive impact an apprenticeship had on him and why more people should consider a more hands-on approach to their engineering career.

Hello Will, can you tell The Student Engineer about your first job ‘on-site’ and how it helped your early development as a civil engineer?

My first experience working on site was [working] as an Engineer’s Assistant on one of Seymour’s largest projects at the Lake Estate in Hebburn, near Gateshead. The project involved the construction of a 6,600m³ storm attenuation tank with 5m cover and connecting tunnels using pipe jacking techniques to prevent the flooding of 21 homes.

Over time I was doing more and more, and…becoming a competent engineer.

How was feedback structured?

On-site, the workload is pretty heavy and everyone’s always really busy, yet members of the team would always take time to ask how I was getting on and if I needed anything.

The site manager, Chris Byrne, would always make time to sit down for regular catch ups, where he would give me feedback on what I’d been doing, and set development points going forward.

We would also have site visits once a week from the contracts manager, who would check in on how I was doing.

On a more formal front, there was an appraisal system with a monthly sit-down meeting to look over my progress, but I never felt like I needed the structured set up. I had so many people around me every day, helping me out and making sure I had the support I needed.

On-site with Seymour

How does someone in your position compare to a graduate fresh out of uni?

Graduates fresh out of university with no work experience are at square one. They’re at the same place I was at when I was 16. They have very little experience of working on a real-life project and therefore engineering companies are going to have to invest quite heavily in them, and be patient whilst they learn the ropes and develop the necessary skills.

Many of them will also be at square one when it comes to work mentality too. It always takes time to adjust to a new job, whatever industry you work in, but if you’re used to being a full-time student, simply adjusting to an 8-5 lifestyle, can be a huge shock to the system. I’ve been in that work pattern since I was 16, it’s not alien to me and because of it, I can easily adapt to a new workplace.

If I was an employer and I had to choose between a candidate who had just graduated from a full-time university course or one who had eight years of industry experience as well as a BEng in civil engineering, I know who I would choose.

Apprenticeships give the next generations of civil engineers a huge leg up, and they position you for a successful career a lot earlier on. They’re a no-brainer to me.

Do you think you’d be in a similar position if you’d taken a sandwich degree?

If I completed a sandwich course at university I don’t think I’d be in the same position as I am today. With an apprenticeship, you could be learning something in the classroom one day and putting it in to practice on a live project the next. That’s not something that a sandwich course gives you.

Of course having a year in industry is useful but one year out of four working full time would still mean you were behind as things change so quickly within this industry. You may find that some of the skills you learnt have become reductant by the time you start looking for a job.

I worked on-site for a while with a man who was completing a year in industry with Seymour for his degree. He was training to become a Quantity Surveyor and by the end of the year, he decided to go back to university part time so he could carry on working for Seymour. He straight away saw the value of learning whilst working.

Thanks Will!