Sam Biles, Planner, 23
As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024, we’re sitting down next for a chat with Sam.
Sam is our youngest apprentice at Edgars and joined us in September 2018 as a Planning Technician and is currently undertaking the level 7 element of his Chartered Town Planner apprenticeship.
Over the last five years, Sam has worked hard to develop his skills and further his knowledge of the planning industry. In recognition of his achievements, we promoted Sam to a Planner in 2022.
How did you first hear about apprenticeships as an option?
The first time I heard about apprenticeships was on a radio advert when I was 15 or 16 years old. The government was carrying out an advertisement campaign about apprenticeships, outlining how it was an alternative option to university when leaving school, providing you with the opportunity to gain workplace experience whilst earning a salary. Although I didn’t entirely understand what apprenticeships were (a 30 or so-second radio advert can only do so much after all), it made enough of an impact that when I started considering what I wanted to do after school in the following years I began to consider apprenticeships as a real option.
What made you choose an apprenticeship?
Like many A-level students, I was encouraged to do as many university visits as possible to help us figure out which university we wanted to attend. I attended a lot of open days and, whilst I was initially excited by the prospect of going to university, it became clear to me that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.
The courses I wanted to do lacked the practical elements that I was after. They had too much downtime with only 8 to 12 hours of lectures a week, and the university lifestyle didn’t appeal to me. During my final year of school, I did a week of work experience with Edgars during one of the school breaks and while there was a lot to learn and get to grips with, everyone was so encouraging and more than happy to provide me with guidance.
During my work experience, Jayne mentioned that Edgars was a part of the Royal Town Planning Institute Trailblazer Group and was in the process of setting up an apprenticeship – she encouraged me to stay in touch.
This was pretty much the nail in the coffin for me applying to universities, to the point that I didn’t complete my UCAS forms and didn’t apply to any universities. Although I did apply for other apprenticeships during my final year of school, I knew that I wanted to join Edgars and start my career as a Town Planner. On the day I received my A-level results, I updated my CV and emailed it to Edgars – and three weeks later I started working here!
How have you found being an apprentice at Edgars?
I think the two most beneficial aspects of being an apprentice with Edgars are the people and the projects.
First of all, the people I get to work with are both incredibly nice and extremely knowledgeable. It makes for a fantastic learning environment where asking questions is encouraged. This has helped me both in my day-to-day job and my university work and is one of the main factors I contribute to my progression as a planner during the course of the apprenticeship.
The second aspect is the wide variety of projects that I’ve gotten to work on, ranging from education and commercial to residential and heritage, which has allowed me to practice what I’ve been taught. It’s one thing to learn something in a classroom, it’s another to actually apply that knowledge in a practical setting or apply that practical knowledge in your coursework to provide a different perspective on the topic.
5 years on, do you feel like an apprenticeship was still the right choice?
I’ve been with Edgars for over five years now, and I write this as I’m in the final year of my apprenticeship with the endpoint assessment drawing ever nearer. This apprenticeship was absolutely the right choice for me. Even through all the ups and downs over the years, I have zero doubt that this is what I want to do with my life and that the apprenticeship was the best way to achieve my goals.
I love the work, the people I get to meet, the projects I get to work on, and the experience I’ve gained. Even the smaller things, like offhanded discussions regarding permitted development or minor changes to a piece of legislation, leave me with a smile on my face. And I would have missed out on this if I’d just gone to university.
Do you believe there’s a stigma attached to apprenticeships?
For those reading this whilst in your final year of school and deciding what you want to do next, I understand that deciding what to do next is a daunting prospect. I remember being encouraged to apply to universities and getting some less-than-ideal reactions from teachers when I told them I wanted to do an apprenticeship as they didn’t consider it a good idea.
For various reasons, there is a stigma around apprenticeships. The Early Careers Survey 2022 by Prospects Luminate carried out a survey of 5000 young people and found that “of those students opting to go to university, nearly half view apprenticeships as second-rate to university: 39% said that a degree has a better reputation than an apprenticeship and one in ten said their parents are against the apprentice route.”
I’m hopeful that in the five years since I applied for my apprenticeship, this stigma is being successfully addressed through the National Apprenticeship Week and other such initiatives which do an excellent job of giving those who are familiar with the process an opportunity to talk about their experiences. Whilst apprenticeships and university are different routes, both are equally valid and should be supported as such.
If you are considering applying for an apprenticeship, please don’t be deterred by those who believe university is the only way forward. Apprenticeships can be such a rewarding and fulfilling experience, and I consider it to be a genuine shame that some people disregard them due to a lack of understanding.
What advice would you give someone considering an apprenticeship?
When applying for apprenticeships, make sure you do your research. There are a lot of apprenticeships out there, offering different courses and qualifications with different employers and education providers.
Apprenticeships are basically a three-way contract between you, your employer and your education provider. So ensuring that you like the other two parties is key! I’d highly recommend attending an open day at the place of education you’ll be attending, to get a feel for the place, as well as to meet the lecturers who will be teaching you. If you are also able to get some work experience with your potential employer, that would provide you with the opportunity to get to know them better and decide if they’re a good fit for you.
Thank you, Sam, and good luck with the rest of your apprenticeship!
For information on joining us as an apprentice, get in touch via email@example.com