Getting my degree while working

Benjamin Hole
For vocational courses, it can make perfect sense to study for your degree alongside working. Faithful+Gould offers great financial, educational and mentorship support for this route.

I’d always been interested in construction—it’s more or less the family business, with my dad and brother both quantity surveyors. I left school with A levels in maths, further maths, physics and geography. A typical student lifestyle didn’t especially appeal, and the prospect of student debt definitely didn’t. I wanted to get started on my career, so an entry-level job, alongside a part-time degree, felt like a good fit for me.

I’d already done work experience at Faithful+Gould and I’d liked the variety of projects and the many different career directions available. The structured trainee programme looked well organised and a lot of people in the business had taken this route. So my career began in September 2015, as a trainee quantity surveyor at the Birmingham office, working in the infrastructure team.

My training agreement included day release for the BSc (Hons) Quantity Surveying degree at Birmingham City University, plus self-study days. The first two years of the programme gave me an HNC in Construction and at the time I found this part of the course frustratingly non-specialised. Later, however, I realised how useful it is to have that general grounding and to know what others do in the industry.

Back at the office, I was learning something new every day. I’d started as a shy and nervous 18-year-old, but soon settled in, doing fairly non-technical tasks for the first few weeks, to begin understanding the processes involved in quantity surveying. When a big project landed a couple of months later, I was part of that team from the outset and got some great experience on the cost estimate for the infrastructure requirements (roads, drainage etc.) for a 2,500-unit residential development in Milton Keynes.

My practical workplace experience made my academic studies much more relevant and easier to understand.

I worked mainly with pre-contract assignments and I didn’t go on site for a few months, but I was keen to go, to see how construction worked in reality. Once the opportunity arose, I found it very interesting to visit sites regularly and see the progression of a project. I’ve remained with the infrastructure team, gradually taking on more responsibility. After a couple of years, I felt much more confident, very embedded in the team and I was trusted to go to meetings alone and produce my own valuations.

During my training, I’ve worked on residential schemes, an East West Rail project, an A46 highway junction, a bridge demolition, and I’m currently working on hotel projects in Manchester, among other smaller projects. Faithful+Gould has been flexible in allowing me to get the variety of experience needed for my degree, so it’s not all infrastructure focused.

I’ve enjoyed the blend of academic and practical learning. In the last three years of my degree, I was applying all my learning in a very direct way at work, so that the coursework felt very doable. For example, when university required me to produce a cost plan for a residential development, I was actually working on one and could draw on that experience. My practical workplace experience made my academic studies much more relevant and easier to understand.

The in-house support network throughout my training has been really good, tailored to my needs and learning style...

In my final year at university, I registered for the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) and I’m aiming to sit the final assessment in November 2021. RICS requires your employer to provide you with an APC counsellor but Faithful+Gould also gives you a supervisor as a daily point of contact, to help you monitor your progress in more detail. The in-house support network throughout my training has been really good, tailored to my needs and learning style, and appropriate to each stage of my career so far. I now enjoy supporting people who are a couple of years behind me.

Looking ahead, I want to pass my APC and I see myself staying with Faithful+Gould for the next stage of my career. I’m now a member of our infrastructure NextGen forum, which exposes me to a wider view of how the business works. The forums cultivate the next generation of business leadership and add to the experience needed to take you to the next career level. It’s a good opportunity to network and gives me an understanding of how our infrastructure senior leadership team operates. I also represent NextGen on our West Region transportation sector leadership group.

It's been a great journey so far, to my current position as an assistant quantity surveyor with five years’ solid workplace experience, a degree and no student debt. I’d thoroughly recommend my training route to anyone looking to begin a career in the construction industry.

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