Degree apprenticeships for the built environment professions

Aaran Pearson
A vocational route into a profession, with no student debt—what’s not to love? But is it a well-kept secret that young people don’t always hear about?

I enjoyed my A levels in maths, further maths, physics and chemistry, but the school system appeared to assume that if you were academic, especially in STEM subjects, you’d head for university. From an early age I did have that expected ambition, but when the time came, I changed my mind—vocational science courses didn’t especially appeal to me and I didn’t want a large debt from a non-vocational course.

My family weren’t entirely in agreement with this - I would have been the first in my immediate family to go to university straight after sixth form, and they thought I should take the opportunity. My grandfather was especially keen as he had been a construction labourer throughout his entire life and wanted me to have something ‘better’, innocently unaware of the career diversity the industry offers.

However, the thoughts of the ‘overwhelming debts’, the unknown career goals for my degree, and the idea of leaving my friends and family outweighed my desire to go.

After a gap year and some helpful nudging from my dad, I stumbled upon a quantity surveying apprenticeship with Faithful+Gould online. The advert described a degree apprenticeship; such a thing was never suggested at school and I was unaware that apprenticeships could be anything other than trades. Although I didn’t know what a quantity surveyor did at the time, the description really appealed to me, so I applied.  

I was successfully accepted as a degree apprentice quantity surveyor at Faithful+Gould’s Stockton-on-Tees office. I’m now 21 and nearly halfway through the four-and-a-half-year programme. I will receive my BSc Quantity Surveying (Hons) after the first four years, and preparation for the Assessment of Professional Competency (APC) begins in the third year. The final six months focuses on passing the APC and becoming a Chartered Surveyor.

I’m enrolled at University College of Estate Management; it’s a distance learning programme – an online university. I can access the webinars in my own time, as they’re all recorded – or I can watch them live like a regular seminar. The first year of the course was quite high level, covering law, management, economics etc, but in year two it has started to explore the specifics of my role as a quantity surveyor.

When you’re not at a traditional university, it’s important to be in touch with fellow students. There’s an online forum for each module of my course, although I tend to use WhatsApp groups more. I have two colleagues in our Newcastle office who are also apprentices in the same year of the same course as me, and that’s really useful for collaboration around assignments and exams, and general moral support.

I’m well supported at Faithful+Gould, with 20 percent of my working week allocated to study. I can decide how to allocate that—sometimes it suits me to distribute it across each working day, while sometimes (especially when assignment deadlines approach) I prefer a whole day a week. Individual colleagues are supportive too, so I can seek guidance and feedback on assignments if I need it.

I’m mindful that not going to university could mean a narrower social experience, so I’m very keen on networking and reaching outside of my studying and work life. I’m involved with Generation for Change (G4C), the young professional network of the UK built environment. I also set up and run the regional G4C LinkedIn page and I’m a committee member for regional RICS Matrics, the younger membership group. Faithful+Gould has supported me throughout.

With escalating university fees, you’d expect to see a rise in attractiveness of apprenticeship routes into the professions, but I’m surprised at the lack of awareness (including my own). The government, employers and schools could do more to promote the value of these vocational routes.

Whenever I’d seen adverts for apprenticeships, they didn’t promote the type of career I was looking for. The imagery was very much about trades, whereas my attention would have been grabbed by technology and smart offices!

Taking up a degree apprenticeship has definitely been a fantastic route for me. At the end of it, I will have a degree in a well-respected field, I can be chartered with a world-renowned professional body, and best of all I will be financially much better off.

My family are very supportive, and my friends are often jealous at my lack of university debt - they all think it’s a brilliant opportunity. As estimating is part of my role, it’s only fitting that I have attempted to estimate how much better off I will be after my four years of university through the apprenticeship - it’ll be approximately £35-40,000, compared to someone taking a student loan and accommodation for university. I’ll also have four more years of experience, and I’ll be sitting my APC 18 months earlier than a traditional graduate surveyor and progressing more quickly to a chartered salary. What’s not to love?

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