Graduate apprentices, James and Nicole.

It’s not every day you get the chance to build your own classroom but that has been the case for two students at Heriot-Watt University.

James Kennedy (18) and Nicole Paton (20) have spent the best part of a year combining their studies at the university whilst being an integral part of the construction team behind the newly completed £19 million GRID at Heriot-Watt.

Both are employed by the construction firm Bowmer + Kirkland, which is one of many companies signed up to the Graduate Apprenticeship programme offered at Heriot-Watt University.  

The degree-level programmes are for anyone aged over 16, who live and work in Scotland, with no course fees to pay for apprentices or employers.

Those on the courses spend approximately 80% of their time in work and 20% in university, and can qualify for entry based on both academic and relevant work experience. This enables employers to upskill their workforce in order to meet the growing demands of modern business environment, while employees remain in paid employment as they earn new qualifications. 

James, from Larkhall, started his Civil Engineering course last September and worked as a trainee site engineer on the GRID project until it was formally handed over to the University in April.

He praised the opportunities that have been opened up to him through the Graduate Apprenticeship programme, saying: “I’m not sure where else I could go to earn a new qualification whilst remaining in employment.

“It has been a fantastic opportunity for me to build on my workplace knowledge while developing my wider understanding of the industry, which, of course not only benefits me but also my employers.

“I’d encourage anyone who has the opportunity to enter the Graduate Apprenticeship programme to grab it with both hands!”

GRID, which stands for Global, Research, Innovation and Discovery, is located in the heart of Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus and will welcome its first cohort of students later this year. It offers a new approach to teaching and learning by allowing students to work on real-world problems.

Nicole, from South Lanarkshire, is training to be a quantity surveyor. She found the opportunity of working on the GRID a rewarding one, adding: “It’s been an incredible experience for me and I’m learning a lot. My goal is to be a fully qualified Quantity Surveyor and through my studies here at Heriot-Watt and my employment at Bowmer + Kirkland, I feel that I’m in a great position to achieve that.”

Businesses who have signed-up to the Graduate Apprenticeship programme are already witnessing the benefits in their workplace, with closer partnership working between employers, employees and Heriot-Watt University across a range of key areas.

Dr Gill Murray, Deputy Principal Enterprise and Business at Heriot-Watt, said: “Heriot-Watt is recognised for industry-focused education. Our graduate apprenticeship programme prepares students for the workplace by ensuring they develop essential practical skills, whilst they study. GRID at Heriot-Watt is a major capital project, which was completed on time and on budget, and I’m extremely proud of the valuable contribution from both James and Nicole as part of the construction team”.

In March, the University was confirmed as one of the largest providers of Graduate Apprenticeship places anywhere in Scotland. A total of 205 fully funded places were awarded to Heriot-Watt by Skills Development Scotland, to help meet the needs of local and national employers.

This came after the accolades of ‘Best Apprentice in Scotland’ and the ‘Apprentice Ambassador of the Year’ went to two Heriot-Watt Graduate Apprenticeship students who work for the construction firms, GRAHAM and Jacobs UK.

Employers keen to find out more about Graduate Apprenticeships and what it can offer them can do so by contacting emailing the team or calling 0131 451 8369.