Former apprentice Will Wood discusses the opportunities that his apprenticeship brought him and why more needs to be done to encourage young people into civil engineering.
Apprenticeships are without a doubt the best way for young people to start a career in an area that they may not have heard of or even considered before, which tends to be the case for civil engineering.
I joined Seymour Civil Engineering in September 2012 as a management trainee apprentice, while studying for a BTEC Level 3 diploma in construction and the built environment at Hartlepool College.
I found the first few weeks a massive eye opener. I had no idea there were so many different avenues I could take within the sector and I’m sure that this is the case for many young people.
The time I spent working in the different departments as an apprentice helped me to develop an abundance of new skills, providing me with real-life on the job experience and helping me narrow down which areas interested me the most and identify where my strengths were.
Many classroom-based programmes often fail to teach the specific skills and techniques required
on the job. On my civil engineering degree course at Teesside University, I could see that my experience working on live projects alongside fully qualified engineers has gave me more knowledge than many of my student peers.
Inspiring future apprentices
One of the main issues leading to a lack of apprentices entering the industry is that many young people don’t understand what civil engineering actually is or what it involves.
So is it really that surprising that young people aren’t pursuing a career in the industry?
In many schools young people have the option to study engineering at GCSE level. Originally I thought this was a fantastic way of inspiring the next generation but when you actually look at what makes up the subject's curriculum, it is far too broad and doesn't paint an accurate picture of any sector of engineering.
If the subject narrowed in on the specific sectors, highlighting the difference between say civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, students would have a clearer vision of what direction they want to go for an apprenticeship.
Getting young people onsite
So what can the industry do to try and change this? It’s about engaging with kids at a younger age and getting them out there in to the thick of the action.
When you ask young children what they want to be when they're older they always tend to say jobs that they can relate to, like a police officer, a teacher, a doctor, or a vet. Jobs that they understand because they have experience of them in everyday life.
The work of civil engineers is all around them, every day, yet they have no idea. For me the big question is how can we accurately show them what civil engineering is and help them to understand that it’s a career that makes a difference, much like a police officer or a doctor.
The most encouraging responses I have seen towards careers in civil engineering have come from kids who Seymour has invited to visit their sites.
When they get to see a first-hand view of a building site, armed with a hard hat and high-vis, they get to experience the project from the perspective of a site manager, a quantity surveyor and a site engineer. You can see the impact it’s having on them from their excited faces and abundance of questions.
Making a change for the sake of the industry
Sitting back and watching the skills gap grow in front of our eyes can no longer be an option if the industry is going to keep up with the ever-growing demand for qualified professionals.
Civil engineering firms need to invest in their futures by going the extra mile to inspire the next generation. It’s all about investing in apprenticeships, prioritising their development and beaming with pride watching them flourish and grow within their roles.
I’ll be eternally grateful for the chance Seymour gave me and now believe it’s my turn to encourage the engineers of the future