Stuart Hirst

What is your job title and department?
Senior Technician, Highways and Drainage (Civils) studying HND and a level 5 NVQ. Next year I will be topping up to do my degree.

Why did you decide to pursue an apprenticeship?
The choice between directly taking a three or four-year course at university or doing seven years of apprenticeship came down to two main deciding factors.

Doing a degree at university would have left me in a lot of debt – the best part of £30,000 – while working as an apprentice, I was earning money from my first day without any debt.
The experience. My stepfather (a structural Engineer) gave me the advice that when it comes to a valued engineer, it’s the experience they have in the industry that gives them the advantage. Having a degree doesn’t always mean you know how to do something, or even where to look if you don’t know. Upon completing my apprenticeship, I will have 7 years of project experience – so using the equipment, using the software and researching solutions to problems are second nature to me. These are all things a new graduate will need to learn. I will already have the building blocks of advancing in my career when a graduate is just starting.

What is the best part of your apprenticeship?
My team, I have friends in the company, sure. But my team have supported me since I got here, they have been there when I have had hard days and supported me when I have had tasks I wasn’t sure how to do, or when I made mistakes. It’s in their interest that I succeed, and I couldn’t ask for better colleagues.

What would you say to someone considering an apprenticeship?
You need to do whatever you’re most comfortable doing. If you want to sit in a classroom and get your degree in a few years – and you are willing to get into debt for it – then go to uni to graduate. If you want to be supported the whole way, gaining experience, money, friends and a degree – then become an apprentice, develop as you learn and when you do get your degree, you can look back at everything you did to get there. You might even be able to see projects you worked on when you walk down the street.

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