As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2022, Copper has been shining a spotlight on apprentices and their employers. We spoke to Paddy Patterson, Skills, Employment & Education Manager at Eiffage Genie Civil UK, to get his perspective on apprentices.


 What is your experience of apprenticeships? E.g., career background etc.

Apprenticeships have been a constant throughout my career ever since I started working in the Careers Service, throughout subsequent roles in central and local government, then as a consultant and adviser.  In 2010 I set up one of the first local Apprenticeship Hubs in the country to focus activity and resources in Oxfordshire, and since then have seen apprenticeships from all angles as an employer, as an adviser working with government and businesses, running a shared-apprenticeship scheme, working with a training provider, organising apprenticeship awards, the list goes on. In fact, the only thing I’ve yet to do is to actually do an apprenticeship, but with the expansion of the scheme in recent years, I am planning to cross that one off shortly too! It’s been incredibly interesting and rewarding work, which has given me so many experiences I never imagined having, such as being on tv and radio, being invited to Downing Street and asked to give evidence to a Parliamentary Committee, organising awards ceremonies and bake-offs, setting up pop-up ‘ApprenticeSHOPS’ and even travelling around the Thames Valley with an Olympic-style Apprenticeship Torch! Most rewarding has been meeting so many brilliant businesses and apprentices across many sectors and areas, as well as the excellent training organisations who support the process.


What advice would you give to someone considering an apprenticeship?

Consider all your options including an apprenticeship, and remember that in most cases, an apprenticeship is for anyone at any age or stage in their career, so even if it is not the right option now, it is likely to always be an avenue open to you later on.  Get advice and insight from people who have been through it. There are excellent networks of ambassadors out there, employers and apprentices who will be happy to share their experiences and who work in partnership with a host of support organisations. I would also say, ‘shop around’, take the time to compare multiple opportunities to make sure the apprenticeship will meet your needs now but also longer-term. If you are taking on a new role with a new employer, think about what happens at the end of the apprenticeship, for example, is there an opportunity to stay with your employer and progress in the organisation? Is there a higher-level apprenticeship that you can go on to? If you are looking at doing an apprenticeship to upskill or retrain with your current employer, make sure, for example, you can balance the needs of your daily role with the extra study requirements and that both you and your employer have factored in the off-the-job study requirement. An apprenticeship is a big commitment of time and effort at any level so be prepared!


Why are apprenticeships so important?

For me they are the ‘best of both worlds’ in terms of combining real, on-the-job experience with achievement of recognised, employer-designed qualifications and accreditations. And to do this while earning a salary and building up your professional profile, makes it a perfect package. Two other things are important. First that the programme has grown in recent years, incorporating new sectors and occupations, and being available at higher levels too, including those which incorporate degrees, for example, which makes them a solution for more people than ever before. Secondly, employers have far greater control over the apprenticeship design and delivery, and the funding, and this ‘employer-led’ approach is producing the programmes and therefore the people needed in the workforce. All these things increase the credibility and reputation of apprenticeships which is vital to their continued growth and success.


What value do apprentices bring to your organisation?

The Eiffage Group is well-established internationally with a long and proud history, but new to the UK so for us the growth and success of Eiffage Genie Civil UK is tied intrinsically to the attraction, development, and retention of the best talent. Apprenticeships are at the heart of that approach as they will enable us to growth our workforce with new people but also upskill and develop existing employees at all levels of the business.  We are just launching our first apprenticeship recruitment programme here in the UK which is a significant milestone for the business and a sign of intent for the future which is about creating a workforce that is highly skilled, diverse, and able to deliver first-class results. In turn we can offer a long and fulfilling career with opportunities overseas and exposure to experts from diverse international backgrounds.


What does “build the future” mean to you?

It is recognising that the effort, the time, and the investment we make now will be what helps us to grow and thrive in the future. That is true in terms of our processes, our approaches to wellbeing, diversity, and sustainability, for example, but most importantly in how we manage and care for our workforce.  In an ever-evolving industry that needs to think and act differently than it has done previously, we need our people to anticipate, be ready for and deal with challenges for which there is not going to be a textbook detailing decades of learning and experience, so the skillset needed in our people is changing as we adapt. That is why apprenticeships are so valuable in that they immediately put employees into a mindset of learning on the job, solving problems and thinking creatively and practically, as they go. At Eiffage Genie Civil UK it is all about combining decades of international expertise with the fresh ideas of industry entrants to enable us to design and deliver the most ambitious projects.


How important are apprenticeships in the construction sector?

They have been vital to the growth and prosperity of the sector for hundreds of years, and now they are key for it to survive and thrive. The skills challenges and shortages we face across the industry are well documented and very real, and without making the investment now in growing skills and building for the future, many will not survive. Those that do so and find themselves at the forefront of a 21st Century industry will be those who make that investment in their workforce now by investing in apprenticeships at all levels and all areas of their business.