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Not all ballet dancers wear pink, some wear hi-vis: my civil engineering journey

05 February 2024

Ella Barker, 2023’s New Civil Engineer Apprentice of the Year, credits her dance background for her strong work ethic.

Not all ballet dancers wear pink, some wear hi-vis: my civil engineering journey
One the left, Ella at a dance competition when she was three years old and on the right, Ella doing a watercourse inspection onsite.

Growing up, I’ve loved the performing arts.

I’ve been part of a stage school since the age of three. Every day, I would finish school, head to the studio and be there until 10pm.

At school, during year 11, I had to decide what my next steps would be.

Do I go to dance college or do A-levels and go down the university route?

The truth was, I didn’t want to do either – I wanted to do an apprenticeship.

In navigating this choice, I found that all the aspects I’d learned through dancing – discipline, commitment, perseverance, and creativity – seamlessly aligned with the challenges of a civil engineering apprenticeship.

I successfully applied for a level 3 civil engineering apprenticeship back in June 2020.

Hands-on experience

Being an apprentice allowed me to get hands-on learning experience in three completely different teams: flood management, structures, and town centre planning.

Rotating around teams helped me develop a diverse skill set. It also helped grow my knowledge of the industry and find out which areas I liked working in.

After passing my apprenticeship’s end point assessment in November 2022, I decided I liked the project management side of civil engineering.

I was offered a place on National Grid’s project management apprenticeship which started in September 2023.

Mentorship and opportunities

I’m surrounded by industry professionals every day. There’s always someone I can get advice, mentorship or development opportunities from.

Throughout my apprenticeships, I’ve always had a mentor or a buddy providing me with invaluable opportunities within internal projects and to get involved in STEM activities such as career talks or virtual work experience.

Engaging with professionals is a key part of developing as an apprentice.

You gain an insight into their roles and day-to-day work and improve your communication skills.

Helping the word stay sustainable

Civil engineers play a vital role in helping the UK achieve its net zero goal, and as an apprentice you help play a part in this.

Everything we do as engineers either has a positive or negative effect on the environment. Some things are required for the task at hand, but others can be eliminated.

As civil engineers, we need to pinpoint which areas of our day-to-day work can become more sustainable in terms of the environment, but also the business.

Hard work pays off

Ella Barker receiving her award as New Civil Engineer Apprentice of the Year 2023.
Ella Barker receiving her award as New Civil Engineer Apprentice of the Year 2023.

Being a dancer from a very young age, I’ve learned to bring hard work and determination into everything I do and that you should always be the best you can be.

For me, this has been recognised through being awarded Kirklees Apprentice of the Year 2020, obtaining an ICE QUEST Scholarship in 2021, and most recently, becoming the New Civil Engineer Apprentice of the Year in 2023.

I’m extremely grateful that my continued commitment to the industry hasn’t gone unseen.

I can make a difference within the sector by continuing to work as a STEM ambassador or mentoring younger apprentices.

Reflecting on my civil engineering journey so far

If I’d chosen to go to dance college, then I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have today.

My day-to-day routine would look a lot different, and I would have a much smaller network.

Taking the leap into a completely new field was daunting at first, but if I were to go back three years, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Being an apprentice has helped me develop so much as a person, not just within my work life, but outside of work too.

The field of civil engineering is ever evolving, and an apprenticeship provides you with a platform for continuous development and growth.

If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything!

Interested in starting an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a recognised pathway to achieving professional excellence.

Find out more
  • Ella Barker, project management apprentice at National Grid