At 18, India Jean-Jacques has already made an impressive start to her civil engineering career. She explains her path into the 'boundless' sector and debunks some common misconceptions.
An apprenticeship isn’t always the most obvious choice for some. It certainly wasn’t the obvious route for me, given that if it weren’t for a fated Google search, I would never have even known about them. Even less obvious was my choice to leave full-time education at the age of 16 upon the completion of my GCSEs.
It’s difficult at the age of 15/16, or even later on in life, to find out what the right career path for you is, but having taken a keen interest in the world around me, mathematics and science, it seemed like destiny when I stumbled upon civil engineering apprenticeship vacancies.
Normally the discourse around apprenticeships centres around degree apprenticeships (Level 6 and 7), but I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective. There are apprenticeships of all levels – from Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) to Level 4/5 (foundation degree equivalent) and Level 7 (master’s degree equivalent). The apprenticeship I completed was a Level 3 (equivalent to A Levels). It provided the opportunity to either progress into full-time employment, attend university full-time, or progress onto a degree apprenticeship.
In a job market where experience is becoming increasingly sought after (even when traditional university students are achieving firsts), apprenticeships are the new craze. You can gain that experience, learn and earn a competitive wage in many cases.
Apprenticeships aren't the 'easy route'
Throughout the two years I spent working towards my college qualification, I was also working towards a Level 3 NVQ and Engineering Technician accreditation with the ICE and I have recently, much to my delight, found out that I have indeed achieved that status. Opportunities like these - to build up a portfolio of experience and accreditations – can vastly increase employability.
Contrary to popular sentiments, apprenticeships are by no means the “easy route”.
From first-hand experience, they require a lot of hard work and time management skills. This is, of course, rewarding and gratifying when you yield the results, however. Determination is key. The purpose this gave me helped structure my work and gave me a sense of direction when I had meetings with my line manager to discuss my professional development.
Personally, although not required, I was also committed to self-studying and sitting exams for maths, physics and chemistry A Levels, for which I achieved A*A*A* grades. I also was lucky enough to be awarded the ICE’s QUEST Technician Scholarship! This facilitated a lot of personal growth and allowed me to mature into the adult I am today.
I think really being in tune with what you’re becoming quite good at, as well as the areas of the industry you haven’t experienced, can allow early career professionals to find a place within such a boundless industry like civil engineering, which is full of all sorts of possibilities and different types of projects and specialisms.
Civil engineering is boundless
The world is truly your oyster in civil engineering. Due to the broad nature of the industry, undoubtedly one of the best out there for early career professionals, there is so much to explore.
I’ve worked on a vast array of projects as a highways engineer, supporting teams in various different capacities. From major strategic bids, commercial roles and supplier performance, design work for HS2 – the biggest infrastructure project in Europe! – to local council projects and even Jersey projects where I was invited to fly over.
There being so many disciplines you can specialise in (rail, highways, buildings, bridges, water, airfields, drainage, pavements, geotechnics, ecology, utilities, structures and more!), there’s so much to explore. I’ve worked with many different professionals and I am continuously learning – I envision this continuing for as long as I work.
Not to mention the amazing travelling opportunities that are on offer.
I’ve picked up key and in-demand skills on a plethora of software including AutoCAD, Civils3D, Excel, Inventor and more. I find that working on real-life projects and applying the knowledge I’ve learnt real-time has been incredibly satisfying, knowing that the problems I’ve helped engineer solutions to are helping real people on very large scales in some cases.
Being part of a worldwide network of professionals and making lasting friendships
I have made so many lasting friendships while on my apprenticeship. There are so many networking opportunities for early career professionals that the ICE provides, whether that be through lectures, welcomes and meets, or even committees.
For example, I’ve been part of the London ICE Graduate and Student Committee for almost two years, taking on the Apprentice-Technician Champion role in the last year and meeting professionals and students outside of WSP (the company I work at).
I’ve met some amazing and inspiring people here and also many other apprentices that I have great friendships with, in a wide range of sectors.
Busting 3 common apprenticeships myths
We’ve got to keep talking about this amazing entry route into civil engineering. Because it is not talked about enough, there are many myths associated with the pathway.
- Apprenticeships are for everyone: It's not just for school leavers! It’s a great way for career switchers to get a start in the industry.
- Apprenticeships are for those who are not academically gifted: This is simply not true! There are many different types of apprenticeships and the entry requirements depend to encapsulate every kind of individual in terms of academic ability.
- Apprentices aren’t well-paid: This one is also incorrect – although there is an Apprentice Minimum Wage, many companies offer significantly above that and are very competitive.