To mark the end of Scottish Apprenticeship Week and the beginning of International Women’s Day, our Communications Officer, Elise McGinley, sat down with Alison Irving – the first ever female apprentice hired by BAM.

Alison Irving has been with George Leslie as a Project Coordinator since 2022 – coming up to her second anniversary with the company this month. What makes her so remarkable isn’t just the fact that she has run two half marathons, nor that she dedicates her Sundays to junior park runs, but she was the first ever female apprentice BAM engineering took on.

This happened in 2007 when Alison was 20 years old. By process of elimination, she had worked out what she did not want to do – go to university. By garnering that truth, she applied for an apprenticeship at BAM which allowed her to earn while she was learning.

Alison worked for BAM for 15 years. Throughout her time there she promoted the various apprenticeships BAM offered, as well as interviewing for the apprenticeships latterly.

“Apprenticeships have always been something I’ve been passionate about. I think they are a great way into the industry. Not only that but in terms of the level of support you get. You get it from your educational establishment as well as your workplace.

“I think the fact that you get to work in the industry you are studying for is great as well. You get that hands on experience you probably wouldn’t get if you went through higher education.”

About the benefits of apprenticeships, Alison said: “I think it really is a great thing. Especially for kids that maybe don’t do so well at school. An apprenticeship isn’t all about the high-flying grades of the academic world. It’s about gaining real world experience. Which as you begin to leave education behind, becomes much more valuable than what grades you can achieve.”

She added: “I did get the standard grades and highers, but I knew I didn’t want to sit in a lecture hall day in, day out, and have someone speak at me. I also didn’t think I was disciplined enough not to fall into the university union instead of a class.”

Alison explained her apprenticeship was split by block release – this meant she still had the very clear separation between work and education, which compared to the typical working week of a Graduate Apprentice, is very different.

She said: “I worked down in Norfolk for nine to 16 weeks at a time and then would go to college for the same length of time.

“When I was in Norfolk, I went to the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) which was the biggest construction college in Europe in its heyday.

“I thought the block release balance was good. It made the time as an apprentice a whole lot easier than it is now. When you were on site that was you, you didn’t have to try and balance coursework from college with your working life – it was one or the other for periods at a time.”

Because of her apprenticeship being predominantly based south of the border, SAAS did not fund her course or provide her with a grant. However, because she was earning a full-time wage from a company that was paying for her education, she didn’t feel the brunt of missing out on SAAS like some full-time uni students might.

She said: “I felt like I was rolling in the cash! Some of my friends were doing the full-time uni, part time work thing and struggling to make ends meet. Earning a full-time wage as a 20-year-old, I felt like I had won the lottery!”

In her time as an apprentice, Alison achieved four qualifications – an HND, an SVQ, an NVQ level three in Contracts and Construction Operations. This pathway meant that after these four years she could begin collecting professional qualifications with the Institution of Civil Engineering (ICE) which also had an established connection with her college.

She said: “Within a year of graduating a lot of us – myself included – had Technician Membership of the ICE and had passed all coursework.”

She added: “I also had four years of experience worked up which worked out well for me because it is the experience you have that is the most relevant after a certain point in time.”

Alison discussed the gender gap present on most construction sites. She said: “When I first joined the industry, nine times out of ten, the only other woman on site would be the receptionist. As time has gone on, I have definitely seen more women on site and it’s nice to see women being acknowledged for the hard work they can put in instead of whether the cup of tea they made is any good.”

Construction as a whole is not good enough at advertising the plethora of job roles available within the industry. Alison said: “George Leslie has a civil engineering company needs to start advertising the roles we have and the people we need that don’t directly correlate to a civil engineering degree.”

She added: “It doesn’t need to be a middle aged white man that is a civil engineer that is doing the job of an estimator, a planner, a sustainability advisor, or a communications expert, for the job to be done right.”