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Embracing apprenticeships: Refocusing minds on lifelong learning

Richard Kirk

Like many words, the term ‘apprentice’ is surrounded by misconceptions. It is seen by some as being limited to trade and craft professions, low paid and with little prospect of professional development. Such opinions could not be further from the truth.

At government level, right across the UK, there has never been a greater focus on increasing the number, range and quality of apprenticeships on offer, and the 24% increase in vacancies announced by the National Apprenticeship Service last week demonstrates that employers are on the search for young talent and are embracing this career pathway.

Civil engineering apprenticeships present an opportunity for young people, offering them structured, high value learning, transferable skills and knowledge. Many organisations have been undertaking this on an informal basis, but the inception of the Technician Apprentice Consortium by several consulting civil engineering firms, working with ICE, has provided a more resilient structure to apprent-iceships, for the benefit of all parties, including colleges.

The Department for Employment and Learning is currently consulting on the future of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland, proposing that they are employer-led and have parity of esteem along-side academic qualifications.

CE Northern Ireland is hosting a workshop in the comng weeks to canvass the opinions of our members in colleges, government, contracting and consulting, and to discuss whether the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium model could be implemented in Northern Ireland.

While apprenticeships are primarily designed for young people, the mixture of academic and work-based learning should not be overlooked by more mature civil engineers. Having recently completed a post-graduate qualification, I can testify to the benefit of returning to academic life on a part-time basis to support my professional development.

Although formal study on an academic programme is not the only way to enhance our competence, we must ensure we are using a structured means to plan and record our learning. ICE sees this as paramount, placing it at the heart of its code of conduct, stating that “all members shall develop their professional knowledge, skills and competence on a continuing basis”, for it is this that ensures civil engineers maintain their professionalism throughout their careers.

Irrespective of industrial trends, which come and go, let’s ensure we are growing an apprentice mindset throughout the civil engineering profession, recognising that competence is a function of academic and work-based learning. As we foster an attitude of lifelong learning, taking time to plan and record our development, by whatever means, we ensure we are best placed to meet the challenges ahead.

  • Richard Kirk is assistant director for ICE Northern Ireland

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