Setting the foundations to a successful career
22-year-old Tahirah Tang-Campbell joined Waterman’s apprenticeship programme in September 2017. With an unmistakable drive to share her knowledge on the benefits of apprenticeships by her work with local schools and the Construction Youth UK, it comes as no surprise she is one of the faces for M&C Saatchi’s ‘Fire It Up’ apprenticeships campaign for the Department for Education.
Alongside five other apprentices across various industries, she is proud to be an ambassador within the nationwide campaign, particularly after her own experiences in college when it appeared as though university was the only way she would be able to achieve the qualifications for a successful career.
Tahirah discovered her passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) whilst at secondary school in South East London. After excelling in the mathematical solutions within Maths and Technology, she went on to study Engineering at college and had her first official taste of the multiple sectors available within the industry including electrical, mechanical, health & safety and design.
Knowing she didn’t want to attend university, Tahirah said; “I’m a very hands-on person so never found it easy to learn by sitting in lectures for hours on end. I knew there were other options out there but didn’t know much about apprenticeships or traineeships. Thankfully, I learnt a lot online as well as from my family and, after taking a year out to earn some money after college, I began submitting applications for various industrial apprentices in the summer of 2016. Although there were times I never got a response, I knew I couldn’t give up because I had the potential to become the designer or engineer I always wanted to be.”
With the help of her partner, who also works in the construction industry, Tahirah began subscribing to company mailing lists for updates on their apprenticeship programmes and searched weekly for new vacancies within the industry. After multiple telephone interviews, online assessments, group assessment days and job offers, she whittled down her options to just two companies and was delighted to accept the position as a Structures Apprentice at Waterman, starting her studies towards a degree in Civil Engineering at the London South Bank University.
Shortly after starting her apprenticeship, Tahirah discovered she was pregnant with her now 16-month-old daughter and the definition of a work/life balance kicked into gear. She explained; “It was a nerve-racking time for me but my manager instantly made me feel like part of the family. We discussed my options before I decided that taking a year out and returning to work the following year would give me a better time frame to work towards. I always get asked how I manage with work, studying and a baby and my answer is the same every single time – excellent time management! Honestly, prioritising is a skill that allows me to balance my time effectively.”
Having settled back into a routine at work, the ‘Fire It Up’ campaign has been the perfect opportunity for Tahirah to take part in a wider-reaching platform that will inspire students to consider the variety of roles available to them. As well as believing that employers will benefit from hiring an apprentice as they continue to grow within the company, she likes the idea that more women will realise the construction industry isn’t just for men.
Progressing from simple calculations, building modelling and reading detailed drawings, Tahirah has been able to combine the theoretical skills she’s learnt at university within the real-world projects at work, assisting the team with CAD drawings in AutoCAD and Revit, as well as providing structural calculations. When discussing how her apprenticeship has helped her grow within her career, Tahirah said; “My apprenticeship means I can gain a recognised qualification whilst receiving invaluable knowledge and skills to become the best in my field. It also means I have the flexibility to work, learn and live because I feel more like an employee than a student. When I was in school, it felt like university was pushed as the only way to get a good job but it’s important to have alternatives for pragmatists like myself who find it easier to learn by physically doing or reading something. Although I do still go to university, it’s much more manageable as it’s just one day a week and I feel more professional in what I do.”
Reflecting on the setbacks she’s overcome to get where she is today, Tahirah feels her confidence is the greatest thing she’s gained and is looking to the future as she plans to complete her degree and masters in Engineering. Citing ambition as the first step to success, she hopes to obtain more responsibilities and move up the ranks within Waterman, even expressing her desire to become a mentor to new apprentices so she can inspire them to spread the word.