In my last year of school I was really interested in architecture and felt that was what I wanted to do. I took a gap year to give myself a bit of time before my next step, but I knew that becoming a fully qualified architect would take a long time – seven years, in fact. During my gap year I found out about apprenticeship degrees in the area of chartered surveying, and immediately knew that it was the ideal solution for me. I could work while I learned, and gain relevant experience as I went along. I could still come out of it with the same level of qualification and get my career off the ground whilst studying.
A career as a chartered quantity surveyor appealed to me because they are involved all the way through the process, dealing with all the issues that crop up throughout – from making good of defects to advising the client on the life cycle of the project once it is in use.
How did you find an apprenticeship employer?
It was through a nice coincidence actually – my father does the IT for Huntley Cartwright, a chartered quantity surveying firm. As a result I was able to gain some work experience and the partners were very encouraging. They told me that there was a job available, and that they would be happy to employ me if I wanted a career as a quantity surveyor. I accepted, and started work in January. By then it was too late to start an Apprenticeship Degree straight away, so I actually got nine months work experience under my belt before starting my studies.
Huntley Cartwright has been training its staff at LSBU since 1988, so it was great that the relationship between the business and the university was so strong, and already in place.
The whole situation was ideal, really. By doing work experience at the company, I knew it was the right place for me before I accepted the job offer, and they also knew I was serious about a career in quantity surveying, and knew I was competent enough to be useful to them from the start.
What do you think the benefits of apprenticeships are?
The traditional university experience is great for lots of people, but it isn’t for everyone. Studying through the apprenticeship route means that from day one I’m already starting a career, working in the field that I’m interested in.
The professional experience I gain along the way makes me a stronger asset to the company than would be the case had I followed a more traditional degree route. With an Apprenticeship Degree I can learn on the job and gain employability skills along the way.
I’ve already had experience of working with clients. I’m also very lucky here that there is a wide enough variety of projects so I can often gain hands-on experience to complement whatever it is I am studying, I have access to real scenarios and situations where the particular skill I am learning is being applied, so I can see how everything works and fits together.
Are there any challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
Balancing work with university study is undoubtedly a challenge. I tend to find that work takes up a lot of my time so I do need to make sacrifices. During busy times at university – when I have an assignment due in, for example – I have to set aside some of my time either for my university work, or to catch up with things from the office. I have developed good skills in managing and prioritising my work and time.
How is London South Bank University supporting you in your apprenticeship?
The academic staff are incredibly supportive and available when you need them. One of the great things about an Apprenticeship Degree is that you are surrounded by people all day at work who know the subject anyway. I’ve not actually had to rely on the lecturers themselves too heavily – any questions I have I can usually get answered at work very easily. That said, it is reassuring to know that my lecturers are only a phone call or email away if I have an issue.
The academics at LSBU make themselves available to the students and will often stay behind after lectures or seminars to answer questions.
Would you recommend an apprenticeship to others?
I think that if you are the right kind of student, then Apprenticeship Degrees are a great alternative to spending three full years at university. I knew that I wanted to start my career as quickly as possible and by studying in this way I’ve been able to do so without having to compromise on getting a degree at the end of it. What’s more, my employer funds my studies and I’m earning at the same time, so the tuition fee loan is not something I will have to worry about in the future. If you are ready to start your career but still want to continue your education, it’s the perfect choice.
It’s also worth taking into account that nothing is certain in life. I find it reassuring to know that when I graduate, I’ll also already be in a job.
What advice would you give to anyone that is considering doing an apprenticeship?
I think the main thing is that you have to be ready to work really hard. Many people go to university and have a lot of free time, so they can fit their studies into their lives without making big sacrifices. On an Apprenticeship Degree, you’ll be at work four days a week, and you don’t get long breaks during summer and at Christmas. You will be in the office 9am-5pm most days, and you’ll be expected to behave like your fellow professionals that are around you at work. Not everyone can do that – or wants to – but it’s the mindset you need if you are to make a success of this type of study.