For National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2020), we spoke to Dr Penelope Wilson, Academic Lead at Kingston University London, the first institute to deliver an Environmental Science apprenticeship degree.
Four months in to this new degree, we asked Penelope a few questions about how the apprentices at Kingston have been getting along.
How has the degree been received by the students?
It has been going really well. It’s the first time that I have been involved in apprenticeships. We’re lucky to have been able to validate the programme in time for the start of the 2019 to 2020 academic year, and we’ve also been accredited by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), which is fantastic.
We have 12 apprentices this year from six major companies: five from WSP; two from Jacobs; two from the Wood Group PLC; one from Balfour Beatty; one from Mott MacDonald and one from BDP. We have a broad spectrum with the apprentices working in the environmental science departments in civil engineering and geotechnical companies.
The apprentices all seem to be settling in very well. A lot of them are quite young and straight from finishing their A-levels and a few are in their mid-twenties with a little more experiential learning. It would be great to get some more mature students involved also to diversify the teaching. For example, those that have been working for their company a while and who have gained lots of experiential learning but want to increase their understanding, knowledge and get specific qualifications.
How have the employers received the degree?
Generally, it’s been a really positive reaction from our apprentices and their companies. Around Christmas time, the apprentices had gone through a lot of their initial company training and had started to help with workplace projects and consultancy. It is nice that workplace mentors have been in touch and have been letting me know what kind of jobs they’ve been giving their apprentices.
Some of the mentors have been proactive and have been going into their apprentices’ virtual learning environment, seeing what lectures their apprentices have attended and the topics and sessions they’ve covered. Mentors have then tried to match jobs and projects in the workplace to their current academic course material and subjects. It’s great to see them taking such good care of their apprentices, and trying to develop their learning in their workplace.
Were there any challenges on delivering a brand new degree?
From my side of things, the degree got approved quite quickly and the University was very happy, supportive and on board to launch last September. It is really exciting and I am so pleased that we are the first university to have this degree approved and we’re the first institute in delivering an Environmental Practitioner Degree Apprenticeship. It’s great for Kingston and I’m quite proud of our achievement.
Now we’re just trying to throw everything into it to make sure it is successful and, thankfully at the moment, the apprentices seem very happy. Long may it continue! With the BSc (Hons) Environmental Science (Degree Apprenticeship) being a new degree we are trying to encourage more companies to invest in this. The closer we work with all of our partners the more successful it will be and the more support we can give to our apprentices.
Has the current climate helped to attract potential apprentices?
Climate change is everywhere and is constantly spoken about. People such as Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough have been very vocal about climate change and I think it’s highlighted the issue more than ever in people’s minds. I hope that this will lead to a lot of apprentices and students coming through to learn about how to take care for, and study around, the environment. So many industries require environmental sciences as it’s all about sustainability - even here at Kingston we have a team of people whose job it is to ensure the university is sustainable!
This applies to so many industries and all sectors are thinking about food waste, plastic reduction, climate change, carbon footprint and carbon offsetting. During the recent elections there was a lot of discussion about apprenticeships and environmental science - in particular, climate change, which was great to see. That is why it is really important that we promote this environmental science degree apprenticeship which we have here at Kingston University.
What would you like to see more of from industry or employers?
For a start I would like to see more employers looking into having degree apprentices in their environmental science departments. There are lots of additional employers that are sending us civil engineers, but I think the environmental sciences are just as important to these companies. As times change businesses will require more environmental scientists who are taught the most up to date information and research on the challenges that were facing, sustainability, and how we can work together towards building and running more resilient businesses, cities, nations, etc.
Another sector that we can tap into is the energy sector. Being an environmental apprentice and working in the energy sector makes a lot of sense. The retail sector could be another route. Large retail chains will be looking at how they can be more sustainable, energy efficient and green. Finally, local authorities are all dealing with issues like hazards and flooding mitigation, issues which are core to this degree.
Is there any advice you can share?
My advice to potential employers and apprentices is that an environmental science degree covers such a broad range of topics, yet at the same time, apprentices gain specific and tailored environmental knowledge and skills. People might look at the various module titles and topics and not understand exactly what each module entails, but I’d be happy for them to drop me a line to discuss the learning outcomes of each module in more detail. Most importantly, it is about making it obvious how many industries are reliant on understanding the environment, how our actions can impact environmental and ecological systems, sustainability and resilience, and the ever-increasing threat of hazards which we are facing. Hazards and environmental science go hand-in-hand. We know that climate change is happening, but it is also increasing the hazards and the risks associated with them. Improving our mitigation of these hazards is therefore critical.
Is the learning exclusively classroom based?
Not in the slightest. We have 3 compulsory residential fieldtrips and many other day fieldtrips to a variety of locations, near and far, during the course of the 5 year degree. Current locations include Cornwall and Tenerife. This summer we are organising an optional fieldtrip for our students and will be going to SE Spain. We offered this out to apprentice companies. So far we’ve had an excellent and positive response with some apprentices joining us on the trip.
The group will consist of a mix of students and apprentices from all courses and year groups within the Department of Geography, Geology and the Environment. It’s good for the apprentices as it gives them that sense of community and helps them to form friendships with other departmental learners, and in so-doing preventing them from feeling too isolated when in University.
Professor Mukesh Limbachiya, Head of Degree Apprenticeships at Kingston University, added: “I am delighted that the University is once again partnering with the companies representing Technical Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC) again to deliver an excellent, all round educational experience through Environmental Practitioner degree apprenticeship”. We are privileged to be working with these employers who also contributed in design and delivering of our Civil Engineer Degree Apprenticeship programme successfully since its inception.