To mark National Apprenticeship Week, BIM+ spoke to Joseph Maggs, an apprentice currently training for an NVQ in Built Environment Design while working in the York office of SES Engineering Services (SES), an engineering firm that specialises in the design and installation of building services and infrastructure solutions. Maggs defies the traditional mould of an apprentice: at the age of 33, he is married and has children and a mortgage, all of which are proof, he says, that you’re never too old for an apprenticeship. Here, he talks about his decision to take on an apprenticeship in later life, along with what inspired him to make the change.

What was it that attracted you to BIM?

I’d always had a passion for the technical aspects of construction engineering, but with no formal training or even a degree, I’d assumed that a career in the industry was out of the question. Drawing and design has been an interest throughout my life, and I realised I could use technology such as BIM and digital design to pursue my dream career in construction.

How did you find out about the BIM apprenticeship at SES Engineering Services?

In my twenties, I drifted through various jobs on the peripheries of construction – acting as a sales rep at a builders’ merchants, or as an industry recruiter. I’d already unknowingly been building my knowledge, but it wasn’t until I was inspired by a recruitment client that I began to consider construction as a viable career. I began to pick the brains of my client on the basics of building services, learning about what the latest technologies were, what software was used and how the industry operated.

Knowing I wanted a change, I started to research apprenticeships that would offer the springboard I needed and came across SES. Its BIM apprenticeship programme was appealing as I could be involved with a firm that really prioritised technology and innovation. Digital design has been a part of SES’ bid process for years – they were the first M&E contractor to become BIM Level 2 accredited – and the leaps forward they’re making in relation to VR and AR meant it was an easy decision.

How do you explain BIM to friends and family?

I think BIM can be quite a difficult one to get your head round, particularly if you have no experience of construction, engineering or design. I tend to try and simplify it by explaining that it’s a detailed, digital model of a building that is referred to throughout the project to ensure everything goes to plan. It’s essentially, a 3-D, interactive version of a blueprint.

I come from a family with a history in the industry, so fortunately I don’t have to explain it too often. My great grandad was an architect, and I vividly remember as a child driving past some of the buildings he helped design.

I think it was this childlike awe and the idea that you can have a tangible impact on the world by physically creating something that drew me to a career in construction. In addition to that, my wife has been there for me every step of the way, and I know that without her support I wouldn’t have been able to take the leap.

Were you apprehensive about doing the apprenticeship, given the widespread belief that apprenticeships are for young people?

Definitely. I think there will always be a nervousness associated with big decisions in life, but one of my biggest regrets was leaving school at the age of 17, and this gives me the chance to get that further education I missed out on – I’m currently studying for an NVQ Level 3 in Built Environment Design. I think the importance of an education is something I’ll drive home to my own children, but this doesn’t always mean the traditional university route.

I think I’d be lying if I said the financial aspect wasn’t an initial concern. With a wife, children and a mortgage, I thought the idea of going back to school, retraining while taking a pay cut was completely unfeasible financially. After doing some research and realising the funds and grants that are available to apprenticeships, it became a lot less daunting – which motivated me even further. Again, it was a case of simply doing the research and finding out what’s available. I think a lot of people will completely discount apprenticeships for that reason, but I’d urge them to do more digging, and find out, like I did, that it’s a viable option no matter what age you are.

Apprenticeships allow people like me to retrain and access a career in their dream industry, but the problem is awareness. Most people don’t know what courses are available to them and there’s a real misconception that they’re only for school leavers – I’m proof that they’re not! I know myself that if I’d researched apprenticeships at the age of 25, I would’ve definitely made the jump sooner.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome so far?

I think making the initial change and saying goodbye to a comfortable career was the biggest challenge. Now I’m in my final year, I don’t have any regrets about my decision, and I’ve never felt happier and more fulfilled in a job. The levels of support from SES mean there is always someone to offer help and guidance, and working with the team has been incredibly motivating.

Which technology in BIM and digital construction interests you the most?

I think VR and AR technology is one that really excites me. It’s already used extensively at SES, and considering the technology is still in its relative infancy, it’s quite astounding to think where it’ll be ten years from now. The ability to map out what a project will look like before the first brick has even been laid is remarkable, and I think in the future we’ll see it become an even more vital part of projects, not just in the work-winning phase.

I think the other obvious step forward will be integrating AI into the design process. We’re already seeing it widely used in Smart Buildings, through the automation of processes such as lighting, heating, security and electricity. It’ll be interesting to see how the technology helps assist projects from the initial design phase, and I think we’ll see this become commonplace in the industry in the coming years.

Steve Joyce, you’re the MD at SES: tell us your thoughts about apprenticeships.

At SES, we’ve always been strong advocates of apprenticeships and we take pride in our support of young talent. Our apprentices regularly prove themselves to be motivated, forward-thinking and willing to learn, and Joe is no exception.

The fact that BIM and Digital Engineering apprenticeships are now widely available is testament to how fast the industry is developing, and it’s more important than ever that we recruit talent that is fully versed in the latest technology.

Apprenticeships really are a win-win for everyone involved. They offer individuals the ability to learn essential skills while on the job, and as an employer, they allow us to develop and nurture candidates from day one.