“An opportunity on a plate”: studying for a Master’s degree apprenticeship

Posted on: 8 February, 2024

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we’re profiling each of the shortlisters from this year’s UCEM Built Environment Apprenticeship Awards.


Name: Rachel Harwood

Job role: Project Manager

Company: South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership

Category: Rising Star

When Rachel left school without A-levels, she never imagined she’d get two degrees under her belt – but that’s exactly what she’s on track to achieve.

Rachel’s journey into higher education began when she was a newly single mum aged 37. “I couldn’t find a job that would pay me more than £14,000, so I decided to go to uni and get a law degree. I needed to access higher profile jobs that would pay enough for me to support my daughters.” She gained a discretionary place at Lincoln University, and three years later graduated with an upper second. She now works as a project manager for the South and East Lincolnshire Council Partnership.

As challenging as it was to put herself through university while raising two young children, the experience awakened Rachel’s natural love of learning – and this eventually led her to UCEM.

“I got to the stage in my career where I needed a Masters degree to keep progressing, and I love learning, so I enrolled on a Masters Apprenticeship with UCEM. I’m learning so much along the way. As a project manager, when I look at a building, I don’t always see everything technical that goes into it, so it’s a massive learning curve.”

Rachel credits her Apprenticeship Outcomes Officer at UCEM with her decision to switch her pathway from building surveying to project management. “I realised I was struggling to evidence my APC when I mostly work on retrofits and don’t necessarily spend a lot of time on building sites, so Lucy arranged a meeting with a counsellor on the project management pathway to discuss it. That support has been brilliant, because you don’t want to make a change like that and then realise actually the first pathway would have been better.”

UCEM’s online learning model works well for Rachel: “I prefer learning online because I can slot it into my life. I do get a day a week at work to study but at Master’s level that doesn’t cover all the hours I actually need, so it’s great to be able to pick up at 1am if I can’t sleep or at a weekend or evening. In fact, I don’t think I could do a Masters if I had to physically go to a university to study.”

Rachel observes that “there are no real barriers to learning because it’s online, it’s funded. It’s really an opportunity on a plate, isn’t it?”

The practical nature of the Master’s degree apprenticeship means that Rachel is already applying her new knowledge to her role: “I’m finding I can integrate things I’m learning into the job and I’m looking more deeply into things like CDM regulations. It’s definitely upskilled me already.”

Rachel feels “truly privileged” to be nominated for the Rising Star award. “I would be absolutely exhilarated to go home with an award, but in any event it’s lovely to be recognised for the effort I’m putting in to achieve this alongside my working life.”

Visit the awards webpage >