What can you expect during a construction apprenticeship? Crispin Jolly

What can you expect during a construction apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship can take you in all sorts of interesting career directions. We spoke to Crispin Jolly, who’s Head of Programs (Construction Crafts) at Cambridge Regional College, to find out more.

Direct Line for Business: How are your construction apprenticeship courses run?

Crispin Jolly: A typical apprentice attends college for one day a week and spends the rest of the working week in the workplace. It’s important for them to have the balance of being in the working environment and still be supported through their programme.

The day at college will primarily focus on working towards the diploma. It consists of theory and practical tasks which prepares the apprentices for the exams and practical assessments.

All apprentices need to achieve a minimum standard of Maths and English.

  • For a level 2 trade qualification, a level 1 functional skill in Maths and English is required.
  • For a level 3 trade qualification, a level 2 in Maths and English is required.

Both the level 2 or 3 diploma qualifications are delivered in a way that ensures the learners produce a high standard of work, safely. Most importantly, they must meet or exceed the awarding organisation’s set criteria.

The college staff members training the students are experienced professionals. They provide guidance and support to the students, giving them the platform to achieve their goals.

In order to gain the NVQ qualification, apprentices must gather evidence of the work activities. The way this is presented is also set by the awarding organisation.

The evidence can be presented in the form of photography, witness testimony from the employer or a customer, and direct observation by the NVQ assessor. The candidate and NVQ assessor will then have professional discussions about what’s been observed to establish whether the candidate really is competent in their role.

As part of the framework of qualifications, apprentices have to undertake Employee Rights & Responsibilities (ERR) assessments. These assessments test their understanding of their rights in the workplace. Exploring questions such as are they treated fairly? Do they have a contract? Do they receive holiday pay?

An apprentice can expect to be treated like a normal employee. They should however receive the additional support required to develop their skills so they can do their jobs effectively.

There is also support available for the employer. It’s really a partnership between the college and the employer to ensure sufficient guidance and training is delivered to ensure the overall success of the programme.

Direct Line for Business: Why did you choose a career in the construction industry and what led you to work in education?

CJ: I used to work as a site carpenter, where I had hired apprentices. I found it really rewarding to see them move from their first day – when they knew very little and the construction site was a daunting place – to grow and become fully-trained, confident tradespeople.

I started working in education because I wanted to experience the other side of the industry and be a part of the wider process. I’ve been a lecturer for 10 years now, and it’s really satisfying to share my knowledge with a bigger group of apprentices.

Direct Line for Business: What are some of the practical skills/techniques that your students learn?

CJ: At the beginning it’s very much about calculating quantities and materials, understanding sizes and dimensions. We then progress them on to the hand skills and tool recognition.

In year two we explore more complex practical tasks such as truss roof (a framework of timbers which bridges the space above a room provides support for a roof). And then in year 3, the students will get the opportunity to cut roof components e.g. rafters. That’s only a quick summary of a long list of different tasks!

Direct Line for Business: What are some of the social skills that your students learn?

CJ: At work, the apprentices constantly find themselves meeting customers, clients, and in some cases working in people’s homes. This makes it very important for them to be reliable, well-presented and be able to communicate appropriately.

As professionals, these are fundamental things that we all have to do on a daily basis. At the college we really try to convey the importance of nurturing and maintaining your reputation, especially in a small area like Cambridge.

Direct Line for Business: Why would you recommend an apprenticeship to a school leaver or someone who is considering a career/education change?

CJ: An apprenticeship provides young people with an opportunity to gain skills practically, as opposed to through a classroom based course. It gives them the challenge and reward of producing something that will potentially be there for a very long time, and will be used and experienced by many people.

They can earn and learn at the same time so they can feel part of the nation’s contributors, which I think is that final stage of growing up. Ultimately, they gain valuable qualifications and experiences that will lead then to further career options.

For mature students, it's an opportunity to get back into education with formalised training with a qualification at the end. Their circumstances and reasons for pursuing apprenticeships can vary but ultimately it’s about enrichment and either changing direction or creating more opportunities for themselves. 


I think that there are a lot of really great students who just need an opportunity from employers. We need more employers to understand the benefits for them in taking on apprentices so they can get involved in this initiative.

If you are thinking of starting an apprenticeship, find out more about How do apprenticeships differ around the UK? And What are the best paid UK trades and industries?.

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Last Updated: 28 Nov 2016