September 27, 2021

Earn while you learn: how apprenticeships are taking over from higher education

Just 73.9% of UK graduates were employed in professional roles at the beginning of last year, and this number is expected to fall even lower with the damaging effects Covid-19 has had on the job market. As a result, more and more young people are taking up the opportunities presented by apprenticeships in the construction industry. Zoe Fittock and Angelina Stankovic, trainee M&E engineers at Couch Perry Wilkes (CPW), are celebrating National Apprenticeship Week 2021 by telling us about their experience as an apprentice.

Now, more than ever, university is becoming a less appealing option for school leavers – firstly with the mounting debts and now online learning. Apprenticeships have always been an attractive option for many, including ourselves, and are increasingly seen as a strong rival to higher education, providing the valuable skills and real-world experience needed for success in the construction sector.

Industry insights

Rather than struggling along in large seminar groups, apprenticeships offer tailored support and knowledge-sharing by working with experienced team members. There are opportunities to progress far quicker and learn more thoroughly than through a traditional degree pathway.

The construction industry is as hands-on as it gets and having the opportunity to get practical experience with software, design implementation, and working as a team on a common project goal is invaluable in engineering. We’ve already had great insights into the industry, enhancing our knowledge of M&E engineering and construction industry trends beyond what could be learnt in a university degree.

(L-R) Zoe Fittock and Angelina Stankovic

For new trainees entering the industry, the need for frequent technical engagement is a key part of development. In lockdown restrictions, this might have proved challenging. At CPW, there is a two-fold approach. Firstly, there’s a straightforward mentor hierarchy for trainees, so lines of remote technical input are clear and concise, and secondly, CPW has retained some weekly office presence options for us to sit alongside mentors. We’re given priority over socially distanced desks and we’re finding that office numbers are appropriately limited while still allowing some of the regular face-to-face interaction that is vital to progression.

Women in construction

With International Women’s Day coming up soon on 8th March, it’s an important time to be talking about the need for more women in the construction sector. Apprenticeships are a great way for women to circumvent the glass ceiling and get their foot in the door. By making it easier for women to step into the industry from the start of their career, we can challenge stigmas around female engineers and normalise equal representation.

Entering a traditionally male-dominated industry can be daunting to say the least. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy as the ‘boys club’ mentality deters women from applying for roles at all. By beginning at an apprentice level, it paves the way to gender equality in engineering. Learning alongside male counterparts and benefitting from the expert knowledge of your more experienced team members, really helps challenge the stigma.

There has never been a better time to start an apprenticeship. In our experience, authentic on the job learning and an opportunity to earn whilst you learn makes construction apprenticeships a great place to start your career.

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