HomePeopleThe life of an apprentice on Crossrail

The life of an apprentice on Crossrail

It is difficult to precisely quantify the contribution made by apprentices. Spread so widely and embedded so deeply there are probably few major programmes that haven’t benefited from their work at some point. With skills in such short supply, their contribution is needed more now than ever. ‘We’re certainly not just making tea or doing photocopying,’ said George Holder, a higher apprentice employed by the Alstom, TSO and Costain (ATC) joint venture working on Crossrail.

George is one of the 550 or so apprentices to have been recruited through the Crossrail programme. The project is achieving well above its original target to create 400 apprenticeships through the project – a fact Crossrail’s chairman Terry Morgan, who was an apprentice himself, is extremely proud of.

George, who is originally from Hampshire but now lives in London, is an innovation and knowledge exchange champion for Costain within Crossrail’s ATC joint venture. He works across different teams to find clever solutions to engineering challenges by looking at what technologies and techniques are being applied in other areas of the project.

‘It sounds a bit cliche, but it really is a fantastic first project to be on,’ said George. ‘To get such a huge exposure so early on in my career is obviously fantastic. To be working with such a large number of apprentices and graduates as well on the project is very enjoyable.’


George’s pathway into the industry differs from most. The 24 year old had been training to become a doctor. However, two years into his studies, a somewhat disenchanted George decided his future lay elsewhere.

‘I just wanted a career change, but still one that was involved in the sciences and provided a benefit to society,’ said George. ‘I still wanted to be contributing to something bigger – that’s a main part of why I enjoy working for Costain and working on Crossrail. I’m really quite enjoying being part of something much bigger and that’s going to provide a lot of benefit to a lot of people when all is said and done.’

After leaving medical school, George joined a health and safety consultancy, which at the time was working with Costain on its Prince’s Trust programmes – the initiative works with young people who are not in employment or education to give them the skills needed to work on a construction site. While in that role, he found out about the opportunity to pursue a higher apprenticeship with Costain.

www.highvizmedia.com‘I thoroughly don’t look back on it with any regret,’ said George, reflecting on his decision to pursue engineering over medicine. ‘It was certainly something I was very passionate about at the time. I still have the greatest amount of respect for my friends who still are working and studying… so no bad feelings about it, but it was just a very personal decision… This is not the career that I want to work towards. What else can I apply for? What else can I apply myself to that’s still beneficial, worthwhile.’


Upon completion, George will achieve an NVQ Level 5 in construction management and a HND Level 5 in construction in the built environment from East Berkshire College. With his apprenticeship almost over, George is looking forward to moving on to the three-year Costain Graduate Scheme, which he is eligible for thanks to credits earned while at medical school and courses he’s completed since, in his spare time, through the Open University.

The contribution of ATC’s apprentices is clear. It was an ATC apprentice, Charley Whitlock, who won Crossrail’s Apprentice of the Year award in March. Several more apprentices were highly commended and ATC won the Outstanding Tier 1 Contractor award for the work it has done around apprenticeships. ‘I think that the management on the project are both very supportive of apprentices and provide us with a number of very beneficial opportunities for work on the project.

‘We’re given an appropriate level of responsibility, but one that certainly pushes and challenges us. We’re certainly not just making tea or doing photocopying, but equally we’re not just left out on our own.’

‘We’re expected to be the trainee engineers,’ he added. ‘We’re expected to be able to represent and answer questions on, and provide information on, our respective disciplines. We are certainly seen as full members of the teams that we work within.’

George has also helped to establish an apprentice forum within the ATC Systemwide joint venture, which allows the 15 or so apprentices working on the C610 contract the opportunity to meet with Costain’s apprentice manager once every couple of months to discuss any issues. ‘I think apprenticeships as an entity, are hugely beneficial and positive for the industry,’ said George. ‘You’re actually bringing in people who want to work and contribute to the company, to something bigger, whilst learning as well.’

Costain currently employs 114 apprentices. Of these, 48 work within the rail business as civil engineers, surveyors and administrators.

the nature of the roles that they go into,’ said Caroline Towner, Costain’s apprenticeship manager. ‘They need to be able to learn on the job quite quickly and they need to have really good organisational skills and they need to be able to communicate effectively.’

Later this year, George will become the first Costain apprentice to join the graduate scheme. Caroline said she was immensely proud of George’s achievements and hopes to see more apprentices going down this route. ‘The buzz for me is to see them achieve,’ said Caroline, who has been managing apprenticeship programmes for 23 years.


Apprenticeships are a positive choice, says George, when asked about the stigma that still exists, to some degree, around apprenticeships. However, there is evidence to show this is changing. In 2015, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) recorded a 20 per cent increase in apprenticeship applications.

With the option to study up to degree level with an apprenticeship, George thinks it’s not just a positive choice, but the obvious one. ‘Do you want to spend three years and get something like £30,000 into debt to get a degree or would you rather spend five years earning for a company that actually values you and still get a degree at the end of it?’

Photos courtesy of High-Viz Media.