What Made You Do An Apprenticeship?

Beth Holroyd is Project Coordinator and mental health first aider at WSP.

You can also find Beth on Twitter.

- What made you consider an apprenticeship?

I decided to do an apprenticeship because I didn’t want to follow the traditional route of going to university - It was just something that never interested me. I had seen people coming out of university and unable to find employment with a sizeable debt looming over them. I’d grown up with my parents drilling into me that ‘if you don’t have the money, you don’t get it’ and even though taking on a loan for university is an investment in your future, for me I just didn’t want to have the stress of repaying. One of the main benefits of an apprenticeship for me was that I would be able to earn and learn (With no debt!) Working 4 days a week, and attending college for the other day. I was at college full time for my first year, I studied Level 3 Btec Extended Diploma in Civil Engineering for Technicians. Throughout that first year I applied for just about every apprenticeship I could locally to me. I was eventually employed by then Halcrow (Now Jacobs) as a Civil Engineering Apprentice in Transport Planning. It was great doing an apprenticeship because It turned out I actually didn’t enjoy working in transport planning, I decided about a year in that it wasn’t for me and I was seconded to the highways team. I’m so glad that I didn’t get a degree suited to transport planning and then gain employment only to find I didn’t enjoy it. This saved me loads of time and effort as it gave me a taster and I was actually able to move to an area I did like.

- What are the common misconceptions of apprenticeships?

I think a big misconception is that historically some employers saw apprentices as ‘cheap labour’ I personally think this is really outdated now, many companies have procedures in place to ensure that young members of the workforce aren’t taken advantage off. There is a minimum wage set by the government specifically for apprenticeships and many pay more than this anyway! Employers work closely with colleges to develop what they can offer students outside of college to aid their learning. Our apprentices are a valuable asset at WSP, they work on major projects offering their skills learnt at college and with us to contribute to the completion of our projects.

- What are the key bits of advice you'd give to someone who is considering doing an apprenticeship?

My first bit of advice would be to do your research about the company. When you’re applying for this it may be the first interview you’ve ever had, and its really important that you’re prepared for the interview. Another thing is double checking your CV and making sure that you’ve created a true representation of yourself on it, you don’t want to get there and when they start to maybe question your experiences not be able to back it up, equally you don’t want to potentially miss out on getting an interview because you missed some skills off your CV the employer was looking for.

Another bit of advice is to be prepared for the level of work load. If you’re applying for a school leaver apprenticeship there will be a big difference between school and college/work. If you’d been laid back in your school life you’ll really need to step it up, because if you’re going to be attending college day release you’ll no doubt be there from around 9-7:30pm as well as standard working days on the other 4 days off the week approx (9-5pm). You’ll get assignments from college that you’ll need to fit into your week outside of work time, as well as deadlines at work you’ll have to meet. It’s a big jump from school and you’re going to need to be prepared to meet all the deadlines.

- How did you find it going into a traditionally male-dominated sector?

At first I was a little bit apprehensive purely because I’d attended an all girls high school and I just wasn’t sure what to expect. Since being in industry and being completely honest I’ve never noticed that it is male dominated, it’s just not something that has ever been apparent to me. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with has treated me with respect and as an equal to them regardless of gender. I’ve had both female and male managers, and worked with an array of people from all over the world and I’ve never come across any stereotypes that the media portrays, I personally think these stereotypes are outdated and we now have people from every background, gender or religion in our industry.

- What would you change about social perspectives on apprenticeships?

Right now nothing, I really think in my industry we’re getting it right with how we view them. A large proportion of professionals I work with are ex apprentices/day release students there is a real mix of educational backgrounds. I think the main issues are at a high school level. I’ve been to schools on numerous occasions and I’ve spoken to teachers who have said that they don’t have the right information to give to students with regards to apprenticeships. I think we really need to support schools so that students receive the right information whilst studying their chosen subjects to help set them on the right path before they leave. This is something that can be done via STEM/apprentice ambassador networks, college/school alumini programs, professional institutions and companies that are willing to make the time to support students coming through.

- Do you feel that doing an apprenticeship gave you the necessary skills to excel in yourcareer?

Absolutely. When I left school I lacked confidence, after being bullied I found it really hard to believe that I could achieve anything. If not for the support of my family I don’t know where I’d have ended up! Many just think that you get the qualifications and work experience but I don’t believe that is true. You learn ‘real life’ skills that are important to getting on in your career, such as (but not limited to): attending meetings, how to conduct yourself in professional situations, dealing with various levels of people within different organisations, managing workload based on very real deadlines where clients are waiting. I think this is where apprenticeships have the advantage over just attending college and university as you miss out on these scenarios/skills as they’re not something that is taught.

- Do you feel there are equal opportunities for women via the apprenticeship route?

100%, I honestly think that the perceptions of men only being the boss and women only being in a support role are really outdated. Where I work at WSP we have a really diverse mix of people with both genders able to equally progress in the business.

- A lot of parents traditionally encourage their children down the university route and neglect apprenticeships. What would you say to them?

I think it’s fantastic that they’re encouraging their children to go to further education. It’s that kind of support that really helps children to thrive. However, there are so many options now other than just university that could be considered. WSP offer school leaver apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, so if a degree is still something you want but don’t want to miss out on the work experience then we’ve got you covered.

- Finally, how would you sum up your apprenticeship experience in a few sentences?

The best choice I’ve made for my career

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