How Atkins apprentices progress their construction careers at pace

Posted by Abeera Alam
Posting date: 02/10/2022 15:07

We're celebrating one of our star apprentices, Gemma, who works as a project controller in Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. After just two years in construction and no engineering background, she's expertly managing a £2m ancillary civils construction programme—the East-West Rail Phase 2 project (EWR2).

What did you study to become an apprentice project controller?

I've always been interested in the sciences, and after completing my AS levels, I decided to do a forensic science apprenticeship. At the time, I thought this was my dream career. But I soon found it didn't fulfil or challenge me in the way I'd expected. After finishing it, I looked for something different and applied to Atkins's Level 4 project management apprenticeship. I absolutely loved it. So, I threw myself in and finished it two months early!

When did you start getting 'real-world work' at Atkins?

From day one. I started being responsible for small packages of work in a project team. My first programme after my apprenticeship was EWR2, one of the largest rail infrastructure programmes in the UK. My role was the East-West Rail Alliance (EWRA) Consents P6 Planner, and I was responsible for managing the consent and licencing for the overall £1bn programme.

image of Gemma in safety clothing

From your experience, how easy is it for apprentices to progress their careers at Atkins? 

There are always opportunities at the organization, and all you have to do is ask or put your hand up for them. I thrived in the consents planning job, but I wanted more. So the organization empowered me to become the construction P6 project controller. Now, I'm responsible for the extensive ancillary civils programme, ensuring we achieve key milestones on time. 

"Gemma has proven herself to be a fast learner with a proactive attitude. She is passionate about her chosen career, and this is evident not only in the calibre of her work and drive for professional development, but also through her commitment to mentoring and inspiring the next generation to join the sector." 
—Jez Baldock, Head of Development, East-West Rail Alliance. 

What do you find most challenging about your role?

Part of my job is engaging with tough-minded landowners about planned works. This sometimes involves difficult conversations, and it can be daunting as a young woman who is new to the construction industry. But at Atkins, I'm really well supported, and I know my voice is respected and valued. 

I'm naturally shy and have no engineering background, so it would be easy to find the work intimidating. But from day one, I've felt that everyone here wants to see me succeed and believes in me. So, my confidence and skills have grown significantly, and I feel comfortable asking questions or challenging practices if I think there are more efficient or safer solutions.

How have you challenged or improved on practices at Atkins?

I recently developed and implemented TILOS, a digital scheduling tool, for the ancillary civils programme. It involved creating a time and location diagram and producing a visual representation of the works and drivers, which is more interactive and easier to understand than our old system.

I also wanted to learn how to use SYNCHRO, a 4D modelling construction planning platform. So, I used my own time to become pretty proficient at it, creating my own programme and model. It's a new planning tool that isn't widely used, so when the Atkins programme management practice apprentices heard about it, they invited me to give a presentation.

When you come up with an interesting idea at Atkins, even if you're the youngest in the room, you're listened to and supported to give it a go.

How do you add value to the world around you?

I love sharing knowledge, and I feel privileged to mentor EWRA graduates. They are mostly more senior to me, at least on paper, but they value my practical experience and learning. I currently mentor a female Atkins apprentice, and I interviewed the last intake of apprentices, sharing my experiences of our work and culture.

I'm a member of the Association for Project Management, where I champion career development. It's a passion of mine to inspire the next generation into a career in construction. Some of my STEM outreach includes talking to schoolchildren about my job and leading tours of our work on EWR2. 

"Gemma provided reassurance by answering all my questions about what to expect and supported my initial transition into construction. Gemma has been very inspiring and motivating on my journey as she has helped me to improve my understanding and capabilities in project planning and has encouraged my growth." 
—Naomi Tassa, Degree Apprentice, Transportation Atkins.

What do you want to do next?

I love what I do, and my career is thriving. So I want to take my construction career further. I'm doing my Level 5 and Level 6 Project Management Apprenticeships. It's a lot—I have a demanding day job, that's for sure, but I feel supported. Everyone at Atkins is encouraged to fit their work, life and personal goals together in a healthy way. We have a great culture of flexible working and trust here, and it's for everyone—not just parents.

Find out how to start your exciting apprenticeship #InsideAtkins.


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