Growing an apprenticeship scheme from the ground up

Posted on: 5 February, 2024

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


Name: David Ashford

Job role: People and Culture Lead

Company: Ward Williams Associates

Category: SME Employer

When David joined Ward Williams Associates as People and Culture Lead in 2021, the company had one or two apprentices already enrolled at UCEM, but there wasn’t anyone in the company with the right background to grow a structured apprenticeship programme “despite the fact there was a real desire to grow the next generation of talent.”

David took the reins, and grew the HR function from one part-time administrator to four full time staff, bolstered by the company’s significant investment in learning and development. With this support now in place, it was time to start recruiting more apprentices: something David, a former English teacher, was passionate about. Within three years, the company had placed 22 apprentices at UCEM.

Asked whether he considered switching providers, David said: “UCEM was the incumbent provider when I joined, and I did a lot of research into programmes offered by other universities to make sure we were working with the right partner. I quickly reached the conclusion that UCEM was the best provider of apprenticeships in our sector.”

A key piece of advice David would give to other employers interested in hiring apprentices is to begin the recruitment process early in order to put their organisations on the radars of young people when they are starting to consider whether they want to go to a traditional university or apply for an apprenticeship. “We start advertising at the start of the year, even though it’s for a July or August start, because the best candidates will get snapped up quickly,” he explains.

“With my background in teaching, I just love to see young people succeed. It’s one of my favourite things to recruit them in the first place. I’m quite precious about this: I choose every single apprentice, with the help of a technical colleague.” It’s not always the candidates with the strongest academic qualifications that David will select: rather, it’s about looking for the right cultural fit, values fit, and capability.

All apprentices aged 18+ are paid the Real Living Wage, which helps boost the number of applications the company receives, and ensures they are able to select the most promising apprentices. “We really do offer a great package”, says David, “but it pays for itself, because we get bright, energetic focused young people who want to succeed.”

In David’s view, building a talent pipeline through an apprenticeship scheme is essential for the industry: “It’s a massive recruitment issue. There just aren’t enough quantity surveyors in this country, so we have to grow our own.”

On being nominated for the award, David says: “It came out of the blue, and it was so nice to know that what I do is valued, especially as the nomination came from the lovely team at UCEM. There’s so much more that I want to do and we’re constantly improving and building, so it’s lovely to receive that recognition.”

Visit the awards webpage >