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Women doing apprenticeships and traineeships

Women doing apprenticeships and traineeships

Apprentices are becoming a vital source of talent to businesses of today, and this is recognised none more so than by AECOM.

We caught up with Elle Gaffney, Early Careers Talent Lead, to find out what apprentices can expect at AECOM and how the company’s apprenticeship programme is evolving. Elle also shares with us more about her own career, and love of all things learning and development.

Elle has a real passion for learning and development

Elle’s passion for learning and development started with her very first position. Her role involved coaching and mentoring people who had been out of the workplace for a while. One of the main areas that Elle focussed on was building people’s confidence, and drawing on their skills to re-energise their passions. This focus on skill development led Elle to explore the possibility of upskilling not only those who were out of work, but other employees who worked within the business. Within no time at all, Elle became a facilitator for group training sessions. “As soon as I stood in front of that projector I was hooked,” comments Elle.

AECOM apprentice women

There is never a quiet day for Elle

Elle joined AECOM in 2015 as a Graduate Development Consultant. In the summer of 2017 she was promoted to Graduate Development Manager, and then again in late 2017 to Early Careers Talent Lead. Her current role focusses predominantly on strategy and consistency across the Europe, Middle East, India and Africa business. Most recently Elle’s strategic focus has been on combining AECOM’s graduate and apprentice programmes, and ensuring the redesign continues to offer truly superb development opportunities. Elle’s role encompasses the entire apprentice and graduate lifecycle, so from recruitment, to onboarding and training all the way up to Chartered level. Elle also manages a team of four employees, so when she is not focussed on the development of apprentices and graduates, she turns her attention to developing the personal strengths of her own team.    

Elle says “Three questions that are always at the forefront of my mind are:

  • How do we make our programme the best in the industry?
  • How do we develop our apprentices so they fulfil their potential? and
  • How do we continue to make AECOM an employer of choice?

To answer these questions there are many factors to consider, from aligning with our business objectives, to considering how an apprentice will develop through the organisation once they have completed their apprenticeship. The Early Careers programmes are constantly being reviewed and I am always striving for continuous improvement”. It is fair to say that there is never a quiet day for Elle!

ADVANCE - AECOM's early careers programme

Elle and her dedicated team deliver training to the line managers of apprentices. The aim of this training is to provide an overview of AECOM’s new Early Career Programme, ADVANCE, highlight how graduates and apprentices will benefit from participating in the programme and provide information about the apprentice levy. 

The programme itself is two and a half years in length, although Elle explained “that several of the University and College courses will run for longer than this, especially if an employee is studying for a degree which usually takes five years."

AECOM’s ADVANCE focuses on career development planning and promoting collaborative working. There are five face-to-face classroom sessions and these cover everything from introducing the AECOM business, how to conduct yourself as a professional, through to a focus on personal strengths and wellbeing.

“Collaboration, time management and presentation skills are just a few of the skills that our apprentices develop while being on the ADVANCE programme, as well as learning about how AECOM delivers projects,” said Elle. 

AECOM offers a truly blended approach to learning, with face-to-face classroom training supported by online learning pathways.

“All apprentices will become STEM Ambassadors and they will have the opportunity to deliver a project for AECOM’s work winning team; this means they are truly supporting our key business directives.” Elle continued to explain that “apprentices can expect to work on really exciting projects at AECOM and have the opportunity to collaborate with teams who are working to improve the built environment. Our apprentices are given the space they need to deliver on their apprenticeships, and they are provided with a manager who wants them to do well. During our line manager training, I’ve been excited to meet so many great line managers who are looking forward to supporting their apprentice as they develop.”

Introducing Apprentice Ambassadors

Never one to rest on her laurels, Elle explains that alongside the redesign of the ADVANCE programme, she has recently introduced some new initiatives to the programme. Elle wants to ensure that there is a real community spirit within the apprenticeship programme, and to ensure that our apprentices always have a peer that they can go to if they need help. “We want to ensure that the conversations keep going and an apprentice has someone to talk to, even when they aren’t having face-to-face classroom training.” 

So who better to go to for ideas on how to improve the programme, than the apprentices themselves? And that is exactly what Elle did earlier this year when she met with Jack Barker who, as an apprentice himself, was keen to share his experience and insight.

The first idea Elle and Jack came up with was to introduce Apprentice Ambassadors to represent and support apprentices across the UK and Ireland business. The Ambassadors help oversee and support any new ideas, initiatives or tasks that relate to apprentices in their part of the business. They also help promote the ADVANCE programme and AECOM more broadly through social media, at apprenticeship development days and other events.
Elle is excited about the introduction of Apprentice Ambassadors. “Our apprentices are a rich source of new ideas and bring fresh perspectives to a business like AECOM,” she explains. “I was keen to find a way to support apprentices with the transition from school/ college to the workplace. The Apprentice Ambassadors are a friendly face in a big organisation, and will help us tap into this new thinking. I also hope this peer guidance will give apprentices the confidence and ability to share their ideas with the wider business. I’ve been so impressed by the Ambassadors so far and the great ideas they have brought to the table. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next and how they help our new apprentices.”

Clare Ward is a new Apprentice Ambassador

One of the new Apprentice Ambassadors is Clare Ward, Trainee Technician. Clare works in the Strategic Highways department in Chesterfield. She is currently working towards a BSc in Civil Engineering and the Incorporated Engineer qualification with the Institute of Civil Engineering. “I chose to become an apprentice at AECOM to build my experience and technical knowledge while working alongside some of the industry’s experts. With AECOM I am able to complete my qualifications and progress my career,” explains Clare.

Clare is looking forward to her new role as an Apprentice Ambassador. “I am excited to help new apprentices joining the business and give them a little extra support in their first few weeks; something that I believe would have been very useful to me at the start,” says Clare. So what advice does Clare have for future apprentices? “My advice is to not be afraid to ask questions or input your ideas to your team and colleagues”, says Clare.

Introducing the Apprentice Handbook

The second idea to stem from Elle and Jack’s meeting are the Apprentice Handbooks. Written by the apprentices themselves, the handbooks provide a general introduction to AECOM as well as business line specific information, and detail what to expect as an apprentice at AECOM. “This hopefully adds a little extra support to future apprentices and a point of contact if they are struggling or have any questions,” says Clare. The Handbook project has been led by Jen Fryer, HR Graduate, who has worked closely with the Ambassadors to ensure the handbooks capture all relevant information that will help our apprentices succeed at the beginning of their career journey with AECOM. Speaking about the handbooks, Elle explains that “the Handbooks will be in a language that resonates with the audience as they are written by the apprentices themselves. There is a lot to learn when you join, so I think it will be helpful for new apprentices to know what the ambassadors found useful; importantly they won’t be full of corporate jargon!”

Looking to the future

So what next for Elle? She comments that “I am keen to showcase the AECOM apprenticeship scheme. I am also thinking about Generation Z, and ensuring that the apprenticeship programme will meet their needs. Finally, I want to continue to encourage the side of the programme that focusses on creativity, self-momentum, and community spirit. AECOM is a very exciting place to work, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds!”

AECOM's Apprenticeship Programme

AECOM's Apprenticeship Programme has been established to support and train school leavers - and they're proving very popular with talented women.

AECOM also has Apprentice Plus, a scheme designed to tap into a new group of potential employees - namely those people, often women, who have delayed the start of their career or who want to refocus their career after a break. Apprentice Plus is targeted at people who have been out of the workplace for some time and want to refocus their career or start a career for the first time.

AECOM also recruits school students from the age of 16 into technical and support service roles. Their annual intake tends to be September, and they'd typically advertise for applications via their careers website around October each year.

How to apply

The application process involves submitting your CV online, followed by a final stage interview with the hiring manager, for successful candidates, in the office to which they have applied.

AECOM fully supports their apprentices towards their academic studies. They provide you with an allocated mentor responsible for supporting and guiding your professional development, and they'll provide you with appropriate on-the-job and classroom training as required.

AECOM's longer term aim is for you to study a relevant part-time degree (although this will depend on your business line, individual performance, and your personal aspirations), and subsequently attain your professional qualification with the relevant institution.

Search for apprentice opportunities or email with your CV and details of what you are looking for.


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