Could a construction apprenticeship be for you?

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Construction machinery

Construction is about building stuff – from bridges and roads, to houses, offices and schools. But it’s also about coming up with a sound, safe and snazzy design, getting the materials, and looking after the project once it’s complete.

That makes it one of the most varied industries in the UK, and the range of construction apprenticeships out there mean it’s never been easier to find your niche.

'The range of construction apprenticeships means you can train for jobs at every level'

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What is construction?

Construction is about building stuff that's functional,

safe - and cool (like Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum)

In a nutshell, construction is made up of:

  • Building houses, flats, offices, schools and other public buildings.
  • Constructing things like roads and bridges (known as infrastructure).
  • Getting hold of materials for building projects through activities like mining, quarrying and forestry.

As well as building stuff, construction is about looking after (maintaining) and knocking down (demolishing) construction projects.

Most construction work is carried out by private companies, while infrastructure and public buildings are usually commissioned and paid for (in part at least) by the government and local councils.

There are a whole bunch of public bodies, such as governments agencies and local authorities, which have a say in the nature of construction projects. They consider things like the impact on the environment and communities, and the safety of building sites as well as the project itself.

What jobs are available in construction?

The short answer is loads! About 2 million people are employed in construction (yes, you read that right), across some 300,000 companies, most of them small or medium-sized.

Building a road, a house or a school requires a lot of people with different specialisms all to work together. Think about all the things that make up your home, from the floor to the electrical wiring to the bricks and mortar. Each of these parts was put there by a different person.

2 million jobs
Construction icons
300,000 companies

This means there are lots of routes you can take if you’re interested in a career in construction. The Construction and Industry Training Board (CITB) divide jobs up into 10 areas:

  • Vehicles and machinery: Includes drivers, operators and mechanics of machines such as plant vehicles, boring machines, and cranes.
  • Off-site workers: People like carpenters and joiners build stuff in a factory or workshop which can be taken ready- or part-assembled to the building site.
  • On-site workers: Includes people like floorlayers, bricklayers and bathroom fitters.
  • Management: Buildings sites need people to coordinate things, and construction projects need to be managed to make sure everyone’s working efficiently towards the same goal.
  • Planning: People like building control surveyors make sure construction sites are safe and legal.
  • Surveying: Surveyors check things like the shape of the land, the likely impact of the climate, weather and environment, and the cost of the materials needed for a project.
  • Architects and engineers: Responsible for the design phase of the building process. CAD operators use computers to help the design process.
  • Service installers: Once a building or project is on its way to being complete, electricians, plumbers and heating/ventilation engineers fit pipes, wiring and other necessities.
  • Support services: People like facilities managers and team leaders who keep everything running smoothly.
  • Technical: Estimators and buyers figure out what materials are needed, buy them at the right price, and making sure they’re where they need to be at the right time.

Tell me about construction apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are a job with training, and they’re a great way into many of the construction jobs listed above. There are a multitude of construction apprenticeships out there, so the chances are there's something that matches your education level as well as the trade you want to learn:

Intermediate and advanced apprenticeships

  • Intermediate: Like getting five GCSEs graded A*-C. You’ll GCSE maths or English at C+, but if you don’t have them, you may be able to make them up through a functional skills qualification as you work towards your apprenticeship.
  • Advanced: Like getting two A-levels. You’ll need five GCSEs graded C+ to start one.

Intermediate and advanced construction apprenticeships are a tried and tested route into many roles in the industry, such as:

  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Carpenter
  • Joiner
  • Bricklayer
  • Kitchen and bathroom fitter
  • Quarry worker
  • Boat builder
  • Plant operator

You’ll get one or more level 2 or level 3 qualifications in your field, such as a diploma or NVQ.

There's no better way to get a feel for construction apprenticeships than by hearing someone who's doing one. In this short video, Kieran talks about his apprenticeship in joinery:

When you’ve completed your advanced apprenticeship, you may be able to work towards a further qualification. Which brings us neatly to…

Higher apprenticeships

In the old days, you used to have to have a university degree to do many construction jobs. The new higher apprenticeship means that you can now train for these roles – and other advanced jobs in construction – straight from school or college. Not only that, you'll work towards higher education qualifications at the same time.

Construction apprenticeships now offer a way into:

  • Civil engineering
  • Management
  • Surveying

If you embark down this route, you’ll spend about one day per week studying for your qualification, and the rest of your time putting the theory into practice at work, as you learn from you colleagues.

Qualifications you could work towards include:

  • Level 4 NVQ in construction and building services management.
  • Level 5 foundation degree in professional practice in construction operations management.
  • Level 5 NVQ in construction operations management.

Employers work with colleges and universities to come up with higher apprenticeships schemes help equip trainees for the roles they want to fill. This means they’re quite varied and are specially tailored to your job. Often, the course can be adapted to your strengths and interests. You could well get the opportunity to top up your qualifications once you’ve finished the course.

Today, the following employers are among those offering higher apprenticeships in construction:

  • Aggregate Industries
  • NJS Group Ltd
  • Wessex Water

You should also keep an eye out for degree apprenticeships. These are like higher apprenticeships a bachelor's or master's degree will definitely be part of the course.

Isn’t construction just for boys?

A lot of people ask this question, and the answer is a resounding no!

There are 320,000 women in the UK construction industry right now (for reference, that’s roughly the population of Leicester). They mainly work in “professional” roles – that means areas like engineering or architecture.

In an industry that employs 2 million people, this means women are in the minority. However, when we spoke to civil engineer Tara, she told us that gender isn’t an issue: “Nobody is really bothered whether you’re male or female – everyone is part of one team and everyone contributes to get the job done”.

And apprentice Gemma says “women have a better touch for detail” in this video:

We need more women in construction! Women bring a female point-of-view to construction projects which are designed for men and women, as well as different skills. If you like the sound of the work, take Gemma and Tara’s advice – and go for it. Construction apprenticeships are for everyone!

How do I find out about construction apprenticeships?

There are a few ways to learn whether there are any construction apprenticeships suitable for you:

Now you know about construction apprenticeships, learn more about the industry in our Construction & Property Career Zone.

Image credits

Lead image by Freepik, Gugenheim via Wikimedia CC-BY-SA 3.0

Infographic: Checklist by Vectors Market, Spanner and screwdriver, Pen, Light bulb by Freepik, Paintbrush by Pixel Buddha, Digger by Icon Pond

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