Isabella Falconer, PCSG’s first formal apprentice, had reservations about embarking on her training: “I had the perception of construction that lots of people have – large blokes digging.”

Her past year on a City & Guilds accredited scheme, administered by Davidson Training, has put paid to that. The 20-year-old has found instead a refreshing level of diversity – both in the teams she has worked with and the variety of work she has been involved with.

“It’s really not what I thought it was. In reality, there is a wide variety of diversity and it doesn’t feel intimidating in any way.”

Programmes such as the “5 per cent club” involving major industry players such as Balfour Beatty, have helped promote apprenticeships and ‘earn and learn’ schemes within the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sectors and the benefits they bring to both employers and students.

For employers, apprentices are helping to plug the skills gap, boost diversity and energise the workplace – something which is being celebrated in this week’s National Apprenticeship Week.

Isabella’s focus has been on one of PCSG’s major digital projects – our work supporting  the Sainsbury’s Property division on the strategic direction of its digital estate programme and on the management of information about its vast property estate, made-up of close to 3,000 assets.

She has been embedded into the team as a support services provider – managing requests and queries that Sainsbury’s and its contractors and consultants have about their information systems.

After successfully securing a Customer Services Practitioner Level 2 diploma, Isabella is now working towards a Level 3 Business Administration Diploma. This will boost her qualifications to the equivalent of a Foundation Level degree.

To secure the qualification, she must complete a 2-5,000-word essay. Her theme is how PCSG aligns its internal procurement – essentially its purchasing of key resources such as office equipment and travel requirements – with its sustainability policy.

The challenge is one Isabella has embraced: “I’m having to learn about a big range of areas – stakeholder management, finance, budgeting, project management. And contributing to helping this company being as sustainable as it can be feels pretty good.”

Isabella joined PCSG from Lingfield College, the Sussex independent school, where she secured A levels in Drama and Theatre Studies, History and Psychology. This week, she returned to the school to give a talk on her experience as a construction sector apprentice and of being a transgender woman in what remains a heavily male dominated industry.

PCSG, which recently gained Croydon Good Employer status, is fully committed to workplace equality and diversity and places it at the core of its recruitment, training and career development programmes.

While she enjoyed her time at school, Isabella has found the work environment better suited to her. “I love doing stuff, learning through practical application and I am a people person so doing the kind of work I have been doing with Sainsbury’s comes naturally to me.”

Ultimately, Isabella hopes to secure a place at drama school and to pursue her long-held acting ambitions. But her qualifications will give her a welcome security net and she is grateful for the opportunity her apprenticeship has given her to mature and grow as an individual. “It has been thoroughly enlightening being in the working world. I’ve seen all aspects of who I am as a person develop and improve.”

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