An apprentice's journey through the built environment

5 min read

This year’s National Apprenticeship Week theme is ‘Skills for Life’, reflecting how apprenticeships can not only help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career, but also aid businesses in developing a talented workforce that is equipped with future-ready skills.

It’s an idea that rings true for so many areas of the built environment and at Mace we’re proud to say that we have been staunch supporters of apprenticeships for over 30 years. Rushil Vekaria joined Mace as an apprentice in 2019 and recently won ‘Construction Services Apprentice of the Year’ at the Multicultural Apprenticeship Awards 2022. Hear first-hand about his journey so far and his top tips for anyone considering a similar path into the industry. 

I started with Mace in September of 2019 as an apprentice in Cost Consultancy. Since childhood, I’ve always found that I’ve learnt best by actively getting involved and taking the apprenticeship route has really allowed me to do this. When researching apprenticeship opportunities, I was honestly surprised to see how many organisations offered programmes - and when I looked into Mace specifically, I found that they had been on-boarding apprentices for three decades!

Even just during the research stage, I got the impression that getting real world experience would set a strong foundation for my career - and so far it has! I’m currently in my fourth year of the programme and studying Quantity Surveying at University College of Estate Management, alongside my other duties.

Finding the right fit

When looking for an apprenticeship, while I do think it’s beneficial to apply to as many programmes as possible, for me it’s also crucial that you take the time to understand both the company and the area of the business you’re applying to. This is because, to really stand out, you need to make sure that your submission shows your understanding, your curiosity and your passion to work in the industry. On a personal level, this was vital in my successful application to Mace.

While every programme is unique, apprentices can also come from all walks of life, with these sorts of initiatives playing a huge part in helping the industry to build more inclusive teams. For example, Mace recruited 177 graduates and apprentices in 2022 - with 39% of this intake female and 42% of this group from an ethnic minority background. Still some way to go but positive steps all the same.

I studied Physics, Economics and Maths at A-Level but so far on the programme I’ve met people whose education has been anything from International Baccalaureate to T-levels, to BTECs. And while yes, many apprenticeships do require at least five GCSEs at grade 4/C or above (including Maths and English), a successful application is just as much about showing ambition and demonstrating a true desire to push the built environment forward.

At every stage of the process you’re being assessed on that ambition but particularly at video interview stage, where you’re often assessed against a company’s values and behaviours. At Mace, every colleague – from apprentices, right up to board level – is expected to champion the values and priorities, so getting a head start on this during your application can really make a huge difference.

Avenues to success

Working in the built environment is a career like no other – but the idea that it is one based purely on building sites is painfully outdated.

Because, while of course there are ample opportunities for apprenticeships in those sorts of environments, there are other options too. I’m working in cost consultancy, which is office-based, and there are many roles in development, operations and group services. For example, Mace’s apprenticeship schemes offer opportunities in areas including Marketing & Communications (where you’ll gain a CIM qualification), Quantity Surveying (RICS) and even Sustainability (ICRS).

After that? Well the world is your oyster! At Mace, there is often the chance to stay beyond your apprenticeship term, which in itself opens up a world of opportunity, both in the UK and at many of the hubs across the world.

The key benefits

In my three years on the Mace programme, it’s been really obvious to me the benefits that an apprenticeship can offer.

Firstly, it’s an alternative pathway into employment, without any of the debt that comes with university. They’re also a rare opportunity to ‘try before you buy’, build relationships and learn from those on the frontline. Building a strong professional network from day one can really kickstart a career, and apprenticeships offer 5+ years of experience in the industry, compared to those who study for three or more at university.

The best apprenticeships also make sure to give successful applicants real responsibilities and a part to play in high-performing teams, to really get to grips with the ins and outs of the industry. At Mace, that’s meant working on high profile projects – like the London Eye, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and The Shard to name just a few.

But of course, one of the clearest benefits of apprenticeships is that they allow both recruits and employers to shape the skillsets they need to succeed – collaborating to address industry skills shortages and at the same time, transform individuals into candidates tailor-made for roles in the industry. Quite literally, skills for life.

We are the future

Through the projects I have worked on and the responsibilities I have been given, I have learnt more in these past 4 years than I had ever initially anticipated.

In some sectors, apprenticeships are only kept around as part of old traditions. But within the built environment, I’ve found that the modern-day apprenticeship is so much more than that, and has become more and more pivotal in shaping the development of the industry. An apprenticeship can be challenging – but the rewards really do speak for themselves.

You can hear more about what it’s like to be an apprentice on the Mace social media channels this week. Already interested in an apprenticeship? We currently have 173 school leaver apprentices on-programme and are set to recruit 80 in 2023, with applications now open - find out more via our careers site.