“Experience is the best part”

Jake Parsell, Apprentice at Perega, tells us why he chose a civil engineering apprenticeship, what he likes about it and gives advice on choosing a program

I’ve always been familiar with what engineers do, although I didn’t always know I wanted to be one. Both my parents work at Perega, a civil and structural engineering consultancy, and I’ve been in and out of the office with them since I was a kid.

After leaving school, I completed a BTEC at university while working one day a week at Perega. I especially enjoyed the design process, as well as starting to develop teamwork skills to help deliver compute packages to customers. It looked like a major job, proving that the designs drawn by the architect were working properly.

At the end of my program, I was sure that I did not want to study full time at university. So when the manager of the glass and facade engineering division of Perega asked me if I wanted to join as an apprentice, I knew it was the right choice because it would allow me to work while earning a degree at the same time.

Choose a program

There are many factors to consider when choosing a degree learning program. I was attracted to the University of East London (UEL) because it has been offering part-time degrees for over 20 years and is therefore incredibly well organised.

The regimen I’m on is day release, so I’m in class one day a week and working the rest. Some universities offer block release, which includes one week of classes for three to four months of work. Both have their pros and cons, and for some people this will be a deciding factor in which program they want to take.

Another consideration is the duration of the course. Mine is five years, which is quite common, leading to a BEng in Civil Engineering and being incorporated (IEng) with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). There are four-year courses available, although these are more likely to be for a bachelor’s degree in engineering. While this may impact your eligibility for the ICE charter later, there are many routes into it, so the type of degree doesn’t really matter.

engineering success

For anyone weighing their post-secondary options, I would definitely encourage them to consider an apprenticeship. You earn and get work experience alongside your degree. The experience really is the most valuable part, as it makes you more employable in the end, and seeing your own progress on the job is really motivating.

When I think back to my beginnings, I can see how I developed my knowledge. The questions I have now are much more advanced and I can have deeper conversations with my colleagues, rather than just listening.

Once I had enough experience, I started doing some site seeing on my own. It was really rewarding to “know my stuff” in a way that people would listen to me. More than that, going alone means the company trusts me to work with trained professionals and not mess up. It shows the level of competence you can achieve through learning, through experience relating to people and being in a work environment.

Being a younger member of the team, I really enjoy being around experienced people and learning from them. They are a fantastic resource and a unique part of an apprenticeship, so be sure to ask lots of questions.

Your accountability to your employer is a great motivator. In an apprenticeship, you want to do the best possible job for your employer and with your courses. Ultimately, you don’t want to have to explain to your boss why you’re failing a degree he’s giving you.

Even if you have doubts about the skills required for an apprenticeship, go for it anyway. There is so much help available. I wasn’t confident in my math when I started, but I took exam questions with my mentor at work and we had review sessions to help me along with my university studies.

Although I haven’t had what some might call the “full college experience” of stepping away from home and attending full time, I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far. and the hard work that I have done.