Apprenticeships offer the chance for school leavers to work their way up to chartered level, writes Ellie Levenson

It takes many years of academic study and professional experience to qualify as a chartered surveyor. Once qualified, however, you have the potential to work on the most exciting projects of our age, creating the next world class stadium, protecting the world's reefs, laying pipelines on the seabed, planning cities, creating man-made islands or designing computer games.

But for those who don't wish to follow the traditional route of a RICS-accredited degree course as a first step, there is another way. The Chartered Surveyors Training Trust (CSTT) supports people embarking on a career in surveying right the way through to chartered status, including people who have left school with limited academic qualifications. The Trust is particularly focused on people who face barriers getting into the profession; be it financial, academic or social.

"We have a five stage recruitment procedure," says Jane Rutherford, the Trust's marketing manager. "The process begins with an application form where we look for people who demonstrate a passion for surveying. We then invite applicants to an assessment day where we assess them for a range of skill competencies including teamwork and problem solving. If successful they proceed to interview stage to ascertain their abilities and to find how much they know about the profession. All Applicants are given interview training to give them the best chance to impress a potential employer. CSTT promotes the Apprenticeship scheme to firms, secures trainee placements and then sends applicant CVs to prospective employers; with the firm ultimately deciding who to interview and employ."

Successful candidates work four days a week on the job spending one day a week at college. If the candidate is aged 16 or 17 they spend a year doing a "First Step" qualification which introduces them to surveying and general business practices. This leads onto a two-year diploma in surveying practice from the College of Estate Management, via distance learning facilitated by the Trust. Trainees then enter the third year of a five-year part-time RICS accredited degree. Fees are paid for by the Trust which is funded by employers and the Learning and Skills Council. Trainees begin the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) qualification in the final year of their degree. This qualification would usually take two years to complete but due to the work experience gained through working part-time, CSTT trainees are able to fast track.

At the moment, the scheme is only available in London and the South-east. "It's about getting as many employers on board as trainees," says Rutherford. "We have a range of employers who we work with, large and small and from a range of disciplines. These firms are prepared to give young people a chance to achieve whilst at the same time training them to be incredibly helpful to their business, molding them to their specific business needs."

The Trust has about a 90 per cent success rate. One trainee who has successfully part-completed his training is Michael Kyriacou, 20, from Essex, who works for Kier London, part of Kier Group plc.

"My dad is in the construction industry and his colleague told him about the CSTT," he says. "I applied and went through various processes including and an interview, tests and a presentation. It was a hard process but it paid off as I now have a profession with endless possibilities. I was called for interviews with a few companies and I chose Kier."

Although he has good A-level results, Kyriacou decided he would prefer a work-based route rather than go to university full time. "I had the opportunity to learn at the same time as getting my experience. You can't beat this route as companies want experience as well as qualifications."

He has now finished his Higher National Certificate (HNC) in construction which took two years part time at London South Bank University and for which he got nine merits and a distinction. He also took an NVQ Level 3 in surveying support and has recently passed his ATC and achieved his Tech RICS status, a mark of technical competency which can be an interim stage on the route to getting chartered status. He is now about to start in the third year of a BSc in quantity surveying at Anglia Ruskin University about which he is very enthusiastic: "I want to do a Masters too. I want to do as much as I can."

Chris Self, 47, took a different route to Kyriacou, working in the industry for several years before pursuing further qualifications. "I joined Tuffin Ferraby Taylor in 1983 as a building surveyor and on various occasions they mentioned that they would like me to get qualified. I already had my ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) and HNC (Higher National Certificate) and was a member of The Society of Surveying Technicians (SST)."

After several years he decided to do this and achieved chartered status in 1998. "At the time I was 36 and had a young child. It was daunting to go back to studying at the time. My wife was very understanding and I got a lot of support from my employers - they paid for the course and were quite flexible in my studying arrangements.

"It wasn't just about getting a piece of paper. It's definitely been worthwhile in broadening my knowledge base. I wish I'd done it originally. It is a very good route for people who are experienced and have been in the profession for a long time and wish to get qualified."

Christine Keates is HR partner at the same firm. She is happy to see people come to the profession through various routes: "The message is, just because you haven't got a degree in building surveying that doesn't need to preclude you from surveying as a career as there are just so many routes through. It's a question of what it is you want to be and what it is you've accumulated to date. RICS has recognised that there are different types of people and that we need all kinds."

Keates is keen that as many young people as possible know that the profession is open to them: "One of the things I'm fired up by is to try to tell as many 14- to 16-year-olds about surveying as an opportunity and the dozens of different jobs in surveying and the different routes into it. If things haven't worked out for you at school, you can start off with an ONC in construction at a college of FE and that can be your starting point," she says. "You can go from there to HNC. You can start off with very little indeed in terms of academic achievement. Aptitude is the more important thing."

From the employers point of view, says Keates, hands on experience is particularly reassuring. "Being able to talk to a client or a contractor and understand issues on the site is extremely helpful and there are some of these things you can only get with practical experience. Clients want to know they are going to get a result at the end of the day, and that if there are issues that change as the contract goes along then there will be somebody with a commercial understanding who will be able to find solutions."

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