Bianca Wheeler, trainee engineer
You may need to step out of your comfort zone
Bianca says she knew she wanted to be an engineer from a young age. But until she completed a week’s work experience at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road site, she hadn’t found her calling. “I spent a week learning about the new rail line and it really opened my eyes to the possibilities,” she says. “Crossrail is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe and it really inspired me. I still remember the things I was taught during my time on site. That experience resonates with me to this day.”
Bianca then set her sights on building a career in civil engineering. She found out about a pilot training scheme that enabled participants to work and study at the same time. “That caught my eye because I knew I wanted to further my education and gain qualifications but full-time study wasn’t for me. It would require me to step out of my comfort zone though. All of my friends were going to university.”
The 18 year old applied for a Level 3 apprenticeship, which she was offered, and took her two years to complete. She’s now three years into a five-year long Level 6 Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship, and is studying at Kingston University.
In recent years, she also gained valuable skills in her work as a construction engineer on the Tideway project, London’s super sewer. Now, she’s joined Costain, and is working as part of the Skanska Costain STRABAG Joint Venture on the HS2 high-speed rail line. “It’s the third big project I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of,” she explains.
You learn more than technical skills
The experience Bianca gains through her studies and her work on HS2 will help her achieve another goal: incorporated status with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Bianca believes “every day is a school day” and that an apprenticeship prepares people to meet a broad range of challenges, whether you’re on site or in an office. “I think you learn to prioritise because you have to balance work and your studies,” she explains. “Also, some people are quite young when they start their apprenticeship and the experience helps you develop skills you’ll need in the workplace. For example, professionalism, communication and presentation skills, team work and leadership."
According to Bianca, the other good thing about being an apprentice is that people recognise you as a new starter, to a business and the industry, and are willing to help out. “I haven’t come across a team or manager that hasn’t been willing to help me by sharing their experience or by taking time out of their day to teach me something,” she says.
You’re part of a growing community of apprentices
Bianca advocates getting involved in the industry and becoming part of the apprenticeship community. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, that community was growing, so she says there are now more people to reach out to and share your experiences with. “That’s what the industry needs because if stories aren’t being told, people who are interested in a career in the construction industry won’t see the opportunities an apprenticeship can offer them.”
She’s trying to promote the benefits of apprenticeships and raise the profile of apprentices through work with the ICE, and more specifically, as part of her involvement in the ICE President’s Future Leader scheme. She’s one of just six people selected to take part. “Over the next year, I’m looking forward to learning more about our profession and attending events with industry leaders,” Bianca says. “Not only to listen to what they have to say but also to get involved in important discussions.”
One of those topics will be the role civil engineers play in finding ways to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, in line with ICE President Rachel Skinner’s net-zero carbon initiatives. “That’s a really important topic,” Bianca says. “We need to think about how we build projects and find new ways to ensure our industry is sustainable.”
You should be prepared to be surprised
Her experience as an apprentice has, so far, exceeded her expectations.