Apprentices are thriving

By Neal Kerr, McAdam

It was Albert Einstein who described himself as passionately curious. I’ve always liked that phrase. He also famously said that ‘the important thing is to never stop questioning’. He’s right. It’s the questioning – asking the ‘why‘ – that prompts so many other questions, that can enhance a project, drive problem–solving, challenge a team to reach higher, delve deeper, do better.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve had a growing appreciation of what business can offer apprentices and vice versa. The combination of their curious spirit and our ability to offer them an insight into the “why” helps provide vital context to the topics they study within their further education. We in turn get a more rounded graduate at the end of the process with a strong understanding of the industry they have decided to build a career in.

Developing young engineers has always been part of McAdam’s company culture, taking on graduates, year out students and summer placements. It worked for us and for them – new talent, fresh thinking and another pair of hands for us, and for them insights into a profession and a trial run with a company involved in some of the UK and Ireland’s most exciting engineering projects.

Until 2015, our recruitment tended to focus on graduates and then Jack joined us for an HLA Civil Engineering apprenticeship – part of the first cohort from Workplus. 


“We’ve taken on 7 apprentices, including 3 last month, meaning apprentices now make up 5% of our staff.”


We understand that apprenticeships are a mutual investment. For the apprentice, they’re committing to us, and we are committing to them in terms of salaried employment, mentoring and supporting their education. We work hard to ensure the balance is right so that our apprentices are well mentored and supported throughout, getting access to variety of aspects of engineering. And we’ve seen the benefits already in terms of loyalty and retention, as well as shaping and equipping a new generation of engineers to be future–ready.


“Having the apprentices also helps our senior engineers grow in terms of mentoring, leadership and responsibility, and importantly, maintain links with local universities and colleges.”


When I left school, there was no such thing as a Higher Level Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering. Career choices tended to be limited and gender–based and, without much consideration, I embarked on a civil engineering degree. Thankfully times have changed since then! I’ve immensely enjoyed my career but had the apprenticeship route been open when I was starting out, I would definitely have considered it.

I read recently that currently only 12% of businesses in NI employ an apprentice. It’s an interesting statistic – and perhaps reflects the perceived barriers that exist for companies. For us, Workplus removed many of these barriers with their help and support in coordinating the promotion and enabling simpler recruitment, thus helping us find the apprentices that are right for us.


“Post–pandemic, it seems a particularly pertinent time to give people an alternative option to get a foothold in an industry that doesn’t involve full–time education and student debt.”


If you haven’t engaged in apprenticeships before, I’d encourage you to consider it. At McAdam, we can testify to the value our apprentices bring – and, on a personal note, I can attest to the satisfaction that comes with creating opportunities and bringing on, equipping and supporting the next generation of talent… and watching them thrive.

McAdam has been part of Workplus since 2015, helping to shape and grow the apprenticeship culture in Northern Ireland.

We will be helping employers find new apprentices in our campaign in August 2021

⏰Sign–up by 18 June to get involved ⏰

Click here for more information.

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