As apprenticeships are heralded as a success story for the coalition Government, a senior engineer at WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff in Leeds says more needs to be done to encourage young people into careers in the engineering sector, ahead of his retirement, following 40 years with the company.
Colin Fuller, aged 64, joined Bradford, Fording and Pole in Harrogate as a trainee engineer in 1975. The consultancy went through a series of acquisitions before being bought out by WSP in 1993 where Colin, a technical director in the building services arm of the business, has worked on a number of high profile schemes across the region over the years, including Harrogate International Centre.
Despite seeing many changes in the engineering sector over four decades – he feels that one issue which remains the same is a lack of schools teaching young people about career opportunities in engineering, especially for those for whom higher education is not an option.
Colin said: “When I left school I knew I liked drawing and I thought I would be an architect. However, the local employment office sent me for an interview at an engineering consultancy and I’m so glad they did, as it was the perfect career for me – combining my love of buildings, design and practical problem solving.
“Whilst working at the company, I also went to the local college to study for my Ordinary National Certificate and then moved to London to get my BSc in environmental engineering at what is now London South Bank University.”
“You could say I ended up in this job by chance – and unfortunately, 40 years later, that’s still how a lot of students come into the industry. Young people might say they want to be an architect or developer, but very few will say ‘I want to be an engineer’: they don’t understand what that means and the breadth of jobs available in the sector – which encompasses environment, high rise buildings, rail and infrastructure, to name just a few.
“I don’t think schools understand how to communicate the opportunities available, but over the last few years, companies like WSP have been going into schools to work with students to ignite their passion for the field.”
WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff in Leeds offers a three year apprenticeship scheme in partnership with Leeds College of Building, which allows trainees to be paid to learn on the job and study for qualifications – earning both academic and practical skills.
The company currently has four apprentices working across a range of specialisms, and also runs regular workshops and practical lessons with Morley Academy, as part of its ‘Launchpad’ schools engagement programme.
Colin added: “The job certainly has evolved in my time and, as technology changes, you have to constantly develop your skill set: skills that can open doors to opportunities all over the world. I can vouch first-hand for the sector’s career longevity and I’m proud to know that buildings I’ve helped design will still be there long after I’ve left the industry.
“It’s time to pass the baton on to the next generation and open their eyes to the fantastic opportunities this industry affords.”