'Apprenticeships are making a big comeback'

Beth Holroyd started her apprenticeship in 2011. Since then she's seen recognition grow for apprentices and the benefits they bring to business. Here she describes how she wants to encourage others to consider a similar path.

Beth Holroyd on site
Beth Holroyd on site
  • Updated: 07 February, 2020
  • Author: Beth Holroyd, UK Health and Safety Advisor at WSP

I have been in the industry now almost 10 years and looking back I’ve had the opportunity to work on some amazing innovative projects. Looking forward, I want to encourage others to consider a similar path. From studying a civil engineering apprenticeship, I’ve worked on all kinds of projects ranging from harbour pier re-instatement to major highway works and now I work to keep others safe.

Apprenticeships are making a comeback

A-Levels are amazing, and they have given students a fantastic grounding ready to go to university for years, but apprenticeships are really making a big comeback. Apprenticeships have always existed in one way or another, but in recent times they became ‘less desirable’ for kids who ‘maybe couldn’t do anything else’.

Fast forward to 2020 and more students are applying for apprenticeships than ever, businesses are really recognising the value added to their businesses by apprentices, and apprentices are seeing reaping the benefits of ‘earning whilst learning’. Degree apprenticeships are becoming increasingly common, so students now don’t have to ‘miss out’ on the degree they can have the best of both worlds whilst earning money and gaining invaluable experience. At WSP last year we recruited for 72 roles and over 3400 students applied for them and the demand is on the rise.

I started my apprenticeship back in 2011, this was the year apprenticeships were really starting to be pushed. The ICE made commitments this year to encourage more people to study for an Engineering Technician qualification and I was at the forefront of this meeting with senior business representatives as well as the past-president, Jean Venables.

I saw first-hand, as an apprentice, the work being done behind the scenes and the recognition apprentices were getting for their hard work. Equally I noticed the benefits they offered businesses in the way of being ‘home grown’ and learning job specific information for real life scenarios rather than coming from university with very little experience.

An apprenticeship was a huge achievement for me

When I applied for my apprenticeship, I fought off competition from almost 90 other hopeful candidates. A huge achievement for me given I was set to fail a lot of my GCSEs following being bullied at school. I started life as an apprentice transport planner with Halcrow (To become CH2MHILL and now Jacobs). Which became CH2MHILL and is now Jacobs. I worked on several Park and Ride Schemes in York during this role as well as unmet demand taxi surveys.

Whilst I was at Halcrow, a highways team was created and the work they did was really appealing to me. I managed to get involved with some of their work which included large resurfacing schemes in the MAC Area 7 and 12 contracts. This allowed me my first site experience and I think it was then I got a real taste for wanting to be outdoors more! Following this experience, I asked to be seconded to the highways department full time and I was moved into a site office working on SMART motorways. I worked on as built drawings, site visits and inspections and assisted with document controlling.

I left CH2MHILL in 2014, after I got married, and moved from there to the Scottish Highlands where I worked at The Moray Council. I worked there for almost 4 years on an array of interesting projects. My role was incredibly varied at the council as I worked in a small team. One day I’d be project managing large harbour maintenance repairs, the next I’d be inspecting cliff faces or masonry arch bridges. I loved my time in Moray and the experiences I had there.

Working on transport infrastructure

In 2018 I moved back down to the Leeds area and gained a job as a project coordinator with WSP. I’ve worked on major contracts with Highways England and more recently on the Leeds Public Transport Investment Program upgrading public transport infrastructure in Leeds City Centre.

The LPTIP program allowed me to work closely with BAM Nuttall at their Elland Road and Stourton Sites. We carried out site supervision on behalf of the client to ensure the works were being carried out in accordance with the specification and drawings, and that any issues were highlighted to the main project team. In December last year I accepted a new job offer internally at WSP and this year I started works as a Health and Safety advisor for our UK transport and Infrastructure business.

I think because of the amount of site experience I’ve had, I’ve always had a keen interest in health and safety especially behaviours on site. It’s the most important part of what we do, making sure that we, collectively, go home safe at the end of every day.

Providing others with the drive to make the right choices

Throughout my journey my role hasn’t been consistent, but one thing that has stayed consistent is my drive to ensure others are made aware of the choices they have when it comes to post GCSE education. I’ve promoted STEM and apprenticeship since I started on my path in 2010, and at every employer I’ve made sure I always had time to continue my extracurricular work.

Up until WSP it was predominantly done in my own time, whereas at WSP we’re given two days a year to volunteer our time to support important causes. I think it’s important to highlight that engineering is for everyone, girls and boys alike.

I personally don’t like the targets set for how many women a business should have, what we need to do is make girls aware that engineering is a viable career choice and give them the choice, not set quotas against gender. Because of the skills shortage we have in the industry we need talent, and lots of it. We should be making engineering be more appealing to everyone and not just showcase images of men in hi vis workwear. Civil engineering offers so many different pathways from highways or traffic signal engineering to surveying and drainage engineering. Many roles are office based too, which is great if you’re not a fan of the cold British weather!

As experienced professionals it’s our duty to ensure the next generation are given all the information they need to make informed choices about their career. It can be a daunting prospect trying to decide your career at 16, but it doesn’t have to be!

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