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Blue Print

How I Changed Careers Through a Degree Level Apprenticeship

“After spending the bulk of my career as Commercial Insurance Underwriter, I decided it was time to pursue a long-standing dream and retrain as an Architect. Apprenticeships have supported my career change and new role within Bristol-based architects GCP.”

Our team at The West of England Apprenticeship Service spoke to Owen Faunt about his experience of changing careers and how he used an apprenticeship to retrain in a new industry.


Owen, can you give us a bit of background about what your current role with GCP involves?

I’m an Architectural Assistant at GCP. GCP is an employee-owned chartered architectural practice and energy consultancy based in Bristol. The role involves everything applicable to assisting an architect. From feasibility studies and design input, through to planning applications, the construction and conveyance processes. Day to day, drawing is probably the thing I do most, this would consist of producing planning construction and conveyance drawings. I also write reports, producing branding and marketing literature, and assist with sales. As I already have a photography degree and have worked in various guises as a professional photographer, I’m also now responsible for photographing as many of our projects at as many stages as possible.  

Why did you decide to enter the industry via an apprenticeship?

To qualify as an architect you have to spend five years at university, followed by two years of professional training. It would have been a huge expense for me personally. Through an apprenticeship small businesses only have to pay 5% of the apprenticeship training cost. It was a cost-effective way for me to gain my qualification and GCP to take me on. I was lucky that GCP have been very supportive in taking me on through an apprenticeship and saw the benefits of doing it this way.

“Training and development has always been important to us at GCP, as developing talent is a key part of staying competitive. We’re always on the lookout for innovative ways to source fresh talent and utilising an apprenticeship seemed like a natural and cost effective way to do this. There’s perhaps a misconception that apprenticeships are aimed purely at school leavers but in reality, they can be a useful tool for anyone looking to change profession or retrain at any stage of their career.”

- Jeremy Pilling, Managing Director of GCP Chartered Architects


Can you tell us a bit about what your apprenticeship involves?

I am doing the L6 Architectural Assistant apprenticeship which is a degree apprenticeship at London South Bank University. I spend most of my time in the office with the team, but also have regular trips to London for the apprenticeship training. There is a cohort of 25 of us doing the apprenticeship at London South Bank. It’s been interesting to meet peers in the industry and support each other as we move through the apprenticeship.

How has your employer supported your apprenticeship?

GCP is a relatively small team of 18 people. The Directors have always encouraged a strong culture of learning and development which helped with my apprenticeship. We have 5 days study leave, lunch and learns and recently redesigned our office to encourage more collaboration. As an apprentice I am required to spend 20% of my time in off-the-job training to help gain the skills, knowledge and behaviours to achieve the apprenticeship. Having such a collaborative workplace really enhances the learning process and the whole team at GCP have been really supportive. In reality, I have a team of mentors, from those still on the path to qualification, to architects with decades of experience.

What advice do you have for anyone who is considering an apprenticeship?

They are not just for school leavers, they can be a great career change opportunity.

I’d also encourage businesses or individuals to do their own research. A lot of employers (especially SME’s) are unaware of a lot of the benefits and opportunities associated with apprenticeships. This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants a career change because it effectively allows you to maintain a salary, while attending university or college. All without burdening yourself with huge debts for tuition fees!

If your business is interested in understanding how apprenticeships can be used to recruit, upskill and retain employees in your company, we can help. The West of England Apprenticeship Service provides free, independent and impartial apprenticeship support to SMEs as part of the region's Workforce for the Future programme.  Find out more here

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