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After completing her third year at Harper Adams University, Fisher German degree apprentice Jemima Cooke speaks about why this career pathway in utilities is right for her.

I joined Fisher German in September 2018 through one of the more unusual routes of a degree apprenticeship. I was planning on going down the traditional university route after sixth form, studying rural surveying at Harper Adams, but at the time I worked in a charity shop and regular customer Andrew King, who works at Fisher German’s Stafford office, told me about the firm’s new degree apprenticeship scheme for the rural pathway.

Andrew put me forward as a candidate and I was successful at interview, so it is because of him that I was offered the opportunity to join Fisher German and pursue the degree apprenticeship pathway – I owe it to him completely. I did have some concerns about working predominantly within the utilities sector of the infrastructure division.

I was originally looking to go into the rural division, but I was assured that because Fisher German is a multi-disciplinary firm there’s a lot of opportunities to get experience across all of the different sectors which will not only support with my APC but also any career progression in the future. I would not change my experience over the last two and a half years on reflection.

I am part of the very first cohort of rural chartered surveying degree apprenticeships at Harper Adams. There are 13 of us on the course and we have just finished our third year. We are due to complete the course in 2023 when we will complete our dissertations, graduate and hopefully, successfully pass our APC all in the same year.

I am a huge advocate of the degree apprenticeship pathway and have even been back to my school to promote it to current students. I have the support from right across the firm with assignments, my university fees are covered by the business, I am earning a wage and get a huge amount of hands-on experience – it is a fantastic position to be in. It also allows me to expand my network of connections due to joining the industry from an early age.

One concern about going down this pathway was that I would miss out on the university experience, but the way the course is structured means that I do not ever feel like I am. It works in block weeks, and between September and March we attend university for one week every month. We can either stay at Harper Adams or commute and we are able to socialise with the full-time students and go out in the evenings like we would if we had taken the traditional route. It is an ideal mixture – working, earning, learning, and socialising.

I have now been in utilities for two and a half years and I love it - it is so interesting and there are new challenges every day. My current role sees me work predominantly on the Severn Trent Water contract, liaising with private landowners on behalf of the client when they are completing pipeline projects. We do consultation work, land referencing, site visits and meet with landowners, all while working closely with the Severn Trent project teams and their sub-contractors. Severn Trent work also involves a constant use of the Water Industry Act 1991 legal framework.

I am working on a variety of projects spanning from the Shropshire Hills to the Peak District. A particularly interesting project that I am working on at the minute is a 2.5km replacement water main project in the Peak District, involving private land and highway work, so we are having to work closely with the community. The project is taking place as part of Severn Trent’s renewal plans to reduce future pipeline bursts to help the supply to the network. Working on projects like this means that I am able to put what I am learning into practice straight away which gives you a massive confidence boost - another benefit of degree apprenticeship.

As an apprentice I get a huge amount of support from the firm. Even through Covid-19 we have had very regular team catch-ups to check that everyone is okay. My mentor, Rachel Bridge, and my previous line manager, James Pegrum, have been in constant contact to check that my Harper route is still going well, that I am getting all of the experience I need, and that I maintain a healthy balance between work, university and home life.

There is always a challenge in utilities work – every scheme is different and there is always something new to learn. You are not just sat behind a desk which was very important to me, along with working individually and as a team – and makes “going to” work a pleasure every single day.

To find out more about the career pathways available to undergraduates and graduates at Fisher German, visit our careers page here or get in touch with our Early Careers Talent Advisor, Marie-Ange Ehrhart.

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