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Admin Mar 10, 2022 11:34:00 AM 4 min read

Become an Apprentice and change the world!



Neil Brackenridge started out as an engineering apprentice and is now Past-President of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA). He believes ‘learning on the job’ is the key to a successful and rewarding career… and avoiding student debt! 

When I began my apprenticeship in 1987 straight out of school, I certainly could not have imagined that one day I would be President of BESA – a 118-year-old trade body representing more than 1,000 engineering companies. 

It has been quite a journey. 

As well as learning my trade ‘on the tools’, I was able to add to my qualifications along the way starting out at Salford College of Technology before gaining an advanced professional diploma in project management at Leeds Beckett University a full 17 years after I had started work. 

The building services industry is related to construction, but also has many separate strands – all linked to the built environment which means we are right at the heart of the UK’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Buildings are responsible for more than 40% of our total carbon so anything we can do has a significant impact on the environment and climate change. 

There are thousands of young people out there wondering how they can make a different to their world. Many are wondering if they should become climate ‘activists’ trying to force governments to change their environmental policies – and I would say ‘yes’ go for that, but you can also make a more positive change by becoming a building engineering services apprentice. 

Greta Thunberg criticised politicians and companies for producing too much “blah, blah, blah” and not enough action – but our industry is all about the action needed to tackle climate change. 

We work with cutting edge technologies to make our buildings safer, more comfortable, healthier, and less environmentally damaging – and I am extremely proud of having been part of that effort for more than 35 years. 

The news that the government has just changed the rules about student debts (again!) prompted me to reflect on my own experience. I was able to enjoy a ‘blended’ learning model that meant I could work on ‘real life’ projects while also continuing my education – without running up big debts. Quite the opposite, in fact, because I was being paid while I trained. 

The young people who start off at university later this year face carrying the burden of their tuition fee debts (which now average more than £50,000) for 40 years. Yet, you can still get a degree or other higher-level qualification, without having to pay tuition fees and earning while you learn, by becoming an apprentice. 

It also means you can test out an industry to see if it is right for you before taking the plunge into full-time employment. 

Research carried out by the BESA Academy has found that: 

  • 83% of apprentices believe their career prospects have improved as a result of securing a place on an apprenticeship scheme. 
  • 70% of employers say their productivity and, therefore, business prospects are improved by taking on apprentices.  
  • Every £1 of taxpayers’ money invested in apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 pays back between £26 and £28 in long-term economic benefits. 

The concept of ‘blended learning’ has changed hugely since I was an apprentice – and for the better – because it is now underpinned by digital technology, which means you can access your learning materials from anywhere and at any time. 

Mixing traditional and emerging skills is something BESA has always done to help building engineering continually evolve. Now we are blending traditional training methods with the emerging digital systems through our online Academy to make our information and courses available to a much wider audience than ever. 

  • The BESA Academy saw over 6,000 trainees pass through its virtual doors taking advantage of almost 4,000 hours of online training last year across its broad programme of training courses, assessments and CPDs. 

All BESA Academy modules are accessible from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop whether you are at home, at work or on the move. This flexibility has proved very popular.  

Building services professionals, including apprentices and more experienced engineers, have been using the Academy’s portal to access the resources needed to improve their existing skills and learn new ones while also keeping their qualifications and competencies up to date.  

Apprenticeships last between one and six years depending on the type, level, and previous experience of the candidate. BESA can help you find an employer to work with, whether you are a school leaver, university graduate, or more experienced worker looking for a change in career direction. 

Yes…you can become an apprentice at ANY age or stage of your career. 

Modern engineering is no longer just about nuts and bolts – traditional skills are still vital, but we are also constantly on the lookout for people from all backgrounds with all sorts of talents. That includes those from the arts and humanities who can bring the creativity and vision needed to drive change across our world. 

BESA is also urging employers to commit to taking on at least one apprentice this year so they can help more people learn about the opportunities in our industry. 

The BESA 'Future Skills' pledgedoes not require the employer to commit to taking on an apprentice immediately but will help us improve our understanding of their requirements and provide advice about possible training providers, funding, and access to suitable candidates. 

Soplease think about joining our journey and doing your bit to help change our world. 

For more information visit the BESA Academy