If it wasn’t for my apprenticeship, I’d be on a laptop staring at a screen

By David Reid

It was the summer between Year 13 and 14 that I first started thinking seriously about becoming an apprentice. Naturally, it’s a time when you take stock and think about the future. I’ve an older sister who went to uni full–time and I knew it wasn’t for me.

I thought a good way to spend part of my summer was doing some work experience with a civil engineering firm. It was then that I heard about Workplus apprenticeships and, after doing some of my own research, I made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do.

My ‘A’ Levels were in Maths, Tech & Design as well as a BTech in Engineering. I was in Portstewart the day I got the call from Charles Brand to say I had been accepted. I was on cloud nine all day!

People often ask me what I like about being an apprentice. I ask them how much time they’ve got as there’s so much to like! For me, a real highlight is learning on the job. It’s so much better than sitting in the classroom. 

“I’ve colleagues to guide me, no student debt and a good starting salary which is set to climb”

If it wasn’t for the apprenticeship, I’d be on a laptop staring at a screen. Instead, I’m in work, meeting new people, asking questions and always learning new things.

In 2020 I was taken over to England to visit the HS2 South Portal site in London, near Heathrow. Charles Brand is the currently the only Northern Ireland company on the HS2 project and we are working alongside French and English companies on one of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects of this generation. That has been a real highlight so far.

Another highlight is visiting various sites across Northern Ireland. I was also in Carlingford recently and it’s hard not to enjoy the whole experience of working while keeping your education going. 

Every Tuesday is a university day with Ulster University. It will take me six years to complete my Masters. At first glance it seems a long time, but, when you think about it, it’s not really. For students doing the full–time Masters, it takes five years (including a placement) and they’re coming out with student debt and much less experience.

What I hadn’t thought about before becoming an apprentice is how it is like a fast–track for getting chartered. I recently contacted the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and was delighted to learn that I could be eligible for Chartership shortly after I graduate. It can take engineers years to get chartered after graduation.

Charles Brand has been great and colleagues are so supportive. When people realise I’m an apprentice, they give me a lot of leeway, support and encouragement. They don’t expect me to know everything and I have a real sense that they are really bought into helping me develop professionally. 

“The company puts me on jobs where I can get the most experience”

As well as my salary, I’m also included in the company’s healthcare scheme.

The financial side of the apprenticeship is really good. For me, over 6 years, I’ll have earned about £100k while some of my friends will be coming out of university with £30k debt. So really, there is a difference of £130k.

To get the most out of your apprenticeship, a good work ethic, initiative and common sense are essential. I’d also recommend doing some work experience in areas of interest so you know it’s for you. Whenever I was being interviewed, I could tell the company appreciated the fact I had completed some work experience.

I’ve a younger brother in Year 8. He’s watched an older sister in full–time Higher Education and an older brother doing an apprenticeship. He’s only 12 but he’s already talking about wanting to do an apprenticeship when he’s older. 

“Experience on the job, earning a good salary and gaining a degree – it’s a no brainer!”

Applications for Workplus apprenticeships close at 1pm on Friday 26th February. 

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