Apprenticeships – a valuable route into the industry – by Jack Barker, Apprentice Project Manager at Aecom

by Johnny Clayton on Monday, 20 May 2019

When I opened my A-level results I was full of mixed emotions. While I had achieved the grades I wanted and my place at university was accepted, I had an uneasy feeling that I might not necessarily be doing the right thing. I discovered project management as a potential career option when I was at college and had developed an interest in property development after witnessing new villa developments on childhood holidays.

Assuming I would need a degree first, I decided to study geography at university with a vague plan to pursue a career in the development sector once I graduated. I chose to study in London before realising I didn’t want to spend the next few years amassing huge debts with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I deferred my place at university and started to research my options.

There were presentations about apprenticeships at my college, but they were both brief and irrelevant to the industry I was interested in joining. I researched project management opportunities and after looking at a number of options I joined AECOM’s apprenticeship programme. I’m currently two years into the programme, which includes a day at college to study for a degree in project management.

In addition to earning money, as an apprentice I am gaining meaningful experience on real-life projects. I am working on multi-million-pound projects with high profile clients and this hands-on experience is much more beneficial for my career than a geography degree would have been. A common misconception about apprentices is that they are employed as unskilled labour tasked with menial jobs, but this is far from the truth. I’ve always been made to feel a valued member of my team.

Working for a large business in a big office can be daunting for young people who have probably never experienced this environment before. That’s why I launched the apprentice ambassadors at AECOM with our early careers team. Working across a range of disciplines, we support new recruits when they join the business. We’ve also prepared an apprentice handbook, which includes helpful information about the business and what to expect as an apprentice. I’m really proud of the ambassador initiative and I am grateful that AECOM enabled me to turn my idea into a reality.

Apprenticeships aren’t for everyone and university is often the right option, but they are becoming much more widely recognised as an alternative route into a variety of industries available in an increasing number of professional services. Choosing to turn down my place at university was a tough decision but I’m so pleased I did. I often struggle to believe the options and opportunities that my apprenticeship has given me. Joining the construction industry seemed like a distant career plan when I was studying for my A-levels. My advice to others who may be considering an apprenticeship is to never assume that your options are limited. Going to university isn’t the only way to embark on a professional career.

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