How an apprenticeship enabled me to pursue a career in civil engineering

Ruth Watson tells us what it's like to be an apprentice, and encourages students to consider this alternative route that can provide hands-on work experience, as well as a degree. 

  • Updated: 04 March, 2019
  • Author: Ruth Watson, Civil Engineer Apprentice at Mott MacDonald
My journey towards an apprenticeship wasn't straightforward.

At school, I loved problem solving, and so a career as an engineer suited me. I was interested to hear about the different types of engineering available and initially was undecided about the field of engineering that suited me.

We were encouraged to apply to university if we were able, and I applied to study chemical engineering at Manchester University and was given a provisional offer.

However, during my A Level examinations, an unforeseen set of events meant that I didn't meet the entry criteria.
 

'I realised that university wasn't for me'

It wasn't until my gap year, travelling and volunteering round the world, that I reflected on the type of career I'd like and the way I learn. I realised that university wasn't for me. 

I therefore began to look at apprenticeships. I started to investigate the different types of engineering apprenticeships and was drawn to civil engineering as it played to my strengths. I like the way civil engineering uses a broad range of skills, from planning and design to surveying, construction management and analysis. Having the opportunity to work in the office and on site stood out for me.
 

Apprenticeships open up a whole new world of options

I was shocked at the variety of different levels of apprenticeships there are. Finding out that on a degree apprenticeship I could still acquire a degree, which would be fully sponsored by my employer, while learning on the job, was very exciting.

It also left me confused about why there's a certain stigma about apprenticeships and why they aren’t publicised more.

Why wasn’t I told of apprenticeships at my school? I didn’t hear of apprenticeships at all at school and applying for one was unheard of. Apprenticeships were looked down upon, as no information was provided about them, so people stereotypically associated them with those who didn't do very well academically.

After doing my own research, I applied for a civil engineering apprenticeship and managed to succeed in getting a job as a civil engineer apprentice at Mott MacDonald. I began my apprenticeship in September 2017 and so I'm a year and a half into my apprenticeship.
 

How you can get a degree as an apprentice

Overall, it takes five years to achieve a civil engineering degree part-time.

As an apprentice, you can also achieve EngTech, which is a professional qualification that shows you're competent and enables you to prepare for incorporated or chartership in civil engineering.

My apprenticeship involves day release study at Leeds College of Building, where I earn my civil engineering qualification. The other four days are spent at work, either in the office or on site. I currently work in the water sector in the dams and reservoirs team in Leeds doing some captivating work, mainly working on reservoir safety. 

My job role is very varied which makes it hard to outline what I do day-to-day.

Being a civil engineer apprentice isn't simply a designer role, there are aspects of project management, planning, calculations and detailed design.

Being an apprentice exposes you to different aspects of the industry, learning skills that you can't learn in a lecture theatre.


Studying and working - a perfect partnership

Studying and working, I find, go hand in hand. What I learn at college I can directly apply to work the following day. I find that I consolidate my knowledge learnt at college by applying it to practical situations.

So being an apprentice comes with great opportunities for learning and applying civil engineering knowledge as soon as you learn it, which is great for someone like me, a hands-on learner.

Seeing my calculations and designs being created into construction drawings that then go on to being built is a great personal achievement. The past year and a half have gone extremely quickly, and I've had some great opportunities to grow not only in my knowledge of engineering, but in my experience of working in an office, working with all types of professionals and even presenting meetings and visiting works on site.
 

A supportive environment

As an apprentice I've found that there's a large amount of support available through your employer and your college or university, as they're taking the time to invest in you, and therefore want you to succeed.

Typically, every apprentice has a mentor who will monitor your progress and help you to develop in the industry, ensuring that you're doing the correct type of work that will enable you to progress.

The civil engineering industry is so broad with all the different sectors. It’s exciting to think that in the past 18 months I have only just scraped the surface. There's so much more to learn even just in the water sector that I'm working in, let alone all the other sectors.

I'd encourage students to consider an apprenticeship when looking into higher education. University is a great option for some, however, some thrive learning on the job.

A degree apprenticeship is another route to achieving your degree while continually gaining experience, skills and respect in the workplace, with the benefit of being paid and not building up student debt!

Find out more about apprenticeships in civil engineering here.

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