Q&A with Bethany Holroyd

Materials World magazine
19 Dec 2018

Idha Valeur talks to Bethany Holroyd Engtech MICE, Project Coordinator and mental health first aider at WSP, about her alternative route into a career in STEM.

Can you tell me about your training and career to date?

I studied full-time for a year at Leeds College of Building (LCB), UK, straight after leaving high school. This year, I looked around for apprenticeships, as I knew it would be a good way to earn money and work towards the career I wanted. I secured a place at Halcrow Group as an apprentice transport planner/technician, working four days a week and going to college for one. It was meant to be a three-year apprenticeship, but as I had already completed a year of full-time study at LCB it was shortened to two years. In fact, I worked hard enough to gain the experience I needed to complete my Level 3 NVQ in just one year, alongside studying for my Level 3 BTEC. So after just one year, Halcrow promoted me to Civil Engineering Technician and I was no longer considered an apprentice. Because of my commitment, they enrolled me onto a higher apprenticeship to obtain my Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Civil Engineering. I’ve since worked at the Moray Council in Scotland as a civil engineering technician and I currently work at WSP in Leeds as a project coordinator.

What does your daily work involve?

My day-to-day work at WSP is mainly assisting the project managers with various multimillion-pound road improvement schemes. I work as part of the project team doing tasks such as NEC3 contract admin, document control, and project and financial support. I’ll be based onsite early next year working on a large scheme in my local area, which I’m really looking forward to.

What’s been your biggest career highlight to date?

One of my biggest career highlights was managing to secure funding for a number of dilapidated harbours at my previous role. For years before I joined, the budgets had been getting smaller and smaller, and I worked with a consultant in getting detailed dive surveys carried out for all six harbours in the local authority area, and from that I wrote reports, prioritised works and came up with a 10-year financial plan of works. Our budget the following year ended up exceeding £1m – the harbours had never had so much investment, in terms of capital maintenance. I know a lot of the local fishermen and leisure users had lost faith in money being spent on their local harbours so it was really good to be able to make a start on improving them for years to come.

How did you get into STEM?

When I was at high school I wanted to be a PE teacher, but I’d always had an interest in science and design. My then boyfriend, now husband, was studying a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Civil Engineering when we met, and I helped him with an assignment, which I think was a turning point for me. With it being a mixture of maths, science and engineering as a vocational course, I saw the appeal and thought a career in that industry would suit me better. I was also happier doing classes that taught me real-life skills, like surveying and AutoCAD, instead of having to do A levels and then learn how to do the actual job once employed. The lecturers at LCB were fantastic and the lessons were a mixture of practical and academic work that prepared us well for working in industry.

Construction and engineering courses weren’t offered at my high school careers event and because of this I’ve made it my mission to ensure school children know the benefits this career path can offer. Alongside my work, from 2011 until recently I was an unofficial STEM ambassador working in my own time or taking leave to visit schools and talk about STEM careers and apprenticeships. I’ve spoken on local radio, and gone back to my school four times for various assemblies and careers events to encourage the girls there to consider a STEM career.

What’s your top advice to people looking for non-university routes into professional employment?

My main advice would be to go to websites such as notgoingtouni and the National Apprenticeship Service. Both websites offer advice and can help you get an apprenticeship in your chosen area. Apprenticeships are a fantastic and rewarding way into any industry. I don’t have a degree and it’s never hindered me – I’ve always worked hard and put the effort in. I studied part-time, meaning I worked four days a week at Halcrow and then went to college one day a week, studying for a BTEC, HNC and NVQs. Many employers now, including my current one, offer degree apprenticeships – this means you can get a degree while working and being paid. What’s great for me at WSP is that my line manager and other senior members of staff don’t have degrees and also did apprenticeships. It’s really encouraging to have those kinds of examples in industry to show newcomers that there are various ways into it.

Do you think apprenticeships are a good option for professional training, and if so, why?

Massively, I’ve spent the whole time I’ve been in industry shouting about them. I think they’re fantastic for individuals and not only do you get the training, wage and experience but you learn valuable skills through employment such as good communication, presentation skills and time management that all tie in well and help you develop as an individual. When I’d finished my HNC I had four years experience through work, four years of useful classroom courses that applied directly to my job and no debt. Where my peers were coming out of university with debt and no job.

What are the most attractive aspects of doing an apprenticeship?

I think the biggest benefit for most people is that you are getting paid to learn. When I did my apprenticeship I was able to fund my driving lessons, go on holidays and buy what I wanted to – all without a student loan looming over me. I would have found having debt incredibly stressful, and an apprenticeship removed that. It was a double win for me, I was working in an industry I loved and I was able to then pay for things outside of work too. Obviously there is also gaining the invaluable experience, as I’ve been learning on the job since I started, and I continue to learn.

What’s next for you?

I am really enjoying my role at WSP and I look forward to all the new challenges that will come my way. I’m trying to get as much experience as possible in different areas to help me progress up the project management ladder here.