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Katie Withers - Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship

Katie Withers - Road and Street Works Professional Assistant, Highway Network Management Section, Durham County Council


Katie Withers is currently completing a Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship with Northumbria University. She recently won Apprentice of the Year at the Durham County Council Inspiring People Awards and was the only apprentice from the public sector to be shortlisted for Apprentice of the Year in the national Highways Awards. In addition, she is a STEM Ambassador and recently achieved professional registration as an Engineering Technician (EngTech).

Why did you decide to undertake a degree apprenticeship?

It is a bit of an unusual story! I went to university and trained as a dentist but unfortunately, after qualifying and practising for three years, I realised I didn’t enjoy it. It was a turning point in my life where I decided to walk away from dentistry and find a new career path.

I considered various options, but I had financial commitments so going back to studying full time wasn’t an option. I came across degree apprenticeships which allowed me to work and study at the same time, which seemed ideal.

It was important to me to qualify in a new profession that had a clear career path. In this respect, I found civil engineering really appealing. As a civil engineer you are working across the entire built environment so there are lots of options and routes to choose from. The programme also combines science and maths, two subjects that I enjoy and am good at, and adds an element of art too. I am now in my second year and thoroughly enjoying it – it’s the best decision I ever made.

What have you gained from the programme so far?

I would say that the programme has shaped me into a very well-rounded person. I have picked up lots of new skills, but I have also been able to apply my transferable skills from dentistry, which is the best of both worlds.

Having spent most of my working life to date in the private sector, I was especially interested in getting a chance to work in the public sector, and I’m very motivated knowing I’m making a difference to people’s lives and contributing to society. With this degree apprenticeship, I am learning something that I can see a future in; I can picture the path through my degree, followed by the professional route to move through my career.

What support have you received from your employer and from Northumbria University?

I’ve gained invaluable experience from my employer, Durham County Council, and I am very lucky to be in my team as my manager, workplace mentor and colleagues are really supportive. My degree is ICE accredited and there are certain attributes that I must hit for my portfolio to pass its final assessment. With that in mind, my manager and workplace mentor are always looking for projects or different ways for me to hit these attributes and gain knowledge and skills in a variety of ways.

Northumbria University has been very supportive. The modules and lecturers are great, as well as the evaluation method that combines written assignments and exams. The programme offers an excellent mix of practical work and theory, which is brilliant.

What have been your highlights?

I would say winning the Apprentice of the Year award at the Durham County Council Inspiring People Awards and being shortlisted for Apprentice of the Year at the national Highways Awards have definitely been key highlights.

I put myself forward for the latter and it was a lovely surprise finding out that I had been shortlisted. I saw the awards advertised in Highways magazine and they were looking for apprentices who had perhaps taken a sidestep from a different career, just like I did. It felt nice to be recognised even though I didn’t win.

I am thrilled to have achieved my first step on the professional engineering ladder with EngTech registration and recently, I have registered as a STEM ambassador. My new role at STEM Learning brought me the opportunity to attend a careers fair at a Durham school, as well as conducting mock interviews for Year 11s at a Darlington secondary school. Being an ambassador is a great chance to share some of my knowledge with potential future civil engineers.

What advice would you give to someone considering a degree apprenticeship?

I would highly recommend it, especially to someone who is just leaving school, as the degree combines an excellent academic programme with real professional training.

It’s also an amazing alternative for people like me, who want to retrain or change careers, but can’t take the financial hit of returning to full time education.


About Northumbria BEng (hons) Civil Engineer Degree Apprenticeship

Northumbria’s Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship programme has been designed to equip apprentices with thorough theory-based understanding and the practical skills needed for a career as a professional civil engineer, taking responsibility for the creation, design, implementation and management of a variety of civil engineering projects both in the UK and worldwide.

This programme satisfies the requirements of the IFA Apprenticeship Standard Civil Engineer (Degree) as well as the requirements of the Joint Board of Moderators for a degree programme accredited as BEng, satisfying the requirements for professional registration as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and, with appropriate further learning afterwards, the requirements for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng).

For more information visit here.

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