Step into STEM with Alex Parsonage

My story begins at the end of 2018 where I decided to move from private education to join UTC South Durham. I had attended some of the UTC’s Open Evenings and I was interested in their ability to introduce students to a wide range of industry partners and the availability of industry-standard tools and software. I felt this would provide me with a new perspective and an insight into the world of work.

Before I joined the UTC, I had explored several options for a future career, from Biomedical engineering to Civil engineering. However, I didn't really want to attend University as a full-time student as I wanted to continue my studies whilst learning in the workplace.

UTC South Durham introduced me to Apprenticeships and the various levels which were available. Having researched the Government apprenticeship site I became interested in a degree apprenticeship which would fulfil my ambition to continue my studies and have a full- time job.

As part of the career guidance from the UTC, I visited industry partners and attended careers fairs to understand what roles were available and what levels of apprenticeship were on offer. In addition, I had the opportunity to practise my interview technique with visiting partners.

2020 was a unique year and I found that the availability of degree apprenticeships had reduced and some recruitment had been paused. I found Catherine’s help invaluable in staying close to us and sending any opportunities she was aware of.

I found the recruitment process for the degree apprenticeships challenging. I was successful in getting to the interview stage and it was a hard learning curve when I wasn’t successful. However, it also taught me the importance of building resilience and being able to brush myself down and move on to the next opportunity.


Things I would recommend to fellow students:

  • Enrol early on the Government apprenticeship website. Some of the roles are advertised 6 months in advance of the start date. Once enrolled you will receive a daily email detailing any opportunities.
  • Check the closing date but aim to get your application in ASAP as some of the sites close up to 3 weeks early if they have enough candidates, therefore the role can be withdrawn at any time.
  • Read the job role carefully and print off any attachments, they will keep you on track when completing your application.
  • Complete the application to a high standard, check spelling and grammar, get someone to check it through for you. Catherine was very helpful with this.
  • Whilst you’re at the UTC keep a record of things you are involved with, i.e. industry/STEM challenges and your course work. These are the things which will form the basis of your applications.
  • Keep a weekly diary, do you have anything to record about what you may have been involved in this week? Use the STAR technique to start to build your competencies.

For my role at the Valuation Office, I had to complete a series of sifting exercises. I had to complete verbal reasoning and numeric tests so it is worth practising these online. I also had to complete a written application where I was set a question on my local area. My key learning was to do plenty of research and search out those people who might be able to help me. My final part of the process was an interview via Zoom where I had to present a 5-minute presentation and then take questions from a panel. I then had a skills-based interview and finally a rapid-fire question session.

I then had a very long wait to hear the results of my interview! I was thrilled to be accepted for a degree apprenticeship as a Chartered surveyor with the Valuation office for The Crown. I will be working at the Valuation office in Durham and will complete a 5-year degree in Estate management which will be fully financed by my employers.

I know it will be challenging to undertake a full-time role and study for a degree but it fulfils my goal of furthering my studies whilst gaining real-life work experience.

I know that education and the awarding of qualifications are uncertain at the moment but I would encourage anyone interested in an apprenticeship to register on the Government site now to see what is available, remember some of these roles are for the 2021 September intake.

Challenge yourself to think about what you have undertaken during your time at UTC South Durham and record it as this is the evidence required for your application.  Take all the opportunities for work shadowing and practise interviews, and above all good luck, don’t be despondent if you don’t succeed, keep looking and applying, and don’t be afraid to move your goalposts. Something that at first sight doesn’t look appealing may be right for you.


If you'd like to follow in Alex's footsteps and gain the skills, experience and qualifications required to succeed in the world of work, apply for a place at UTC South Durham here