National Apprenticeship Week 2021: Interview with project manager Oliver Cutforth

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and this year’s theme is ‘Building the future’. It’s fitting for a period of time that has been marked by adaptation and new ways of working. Even in a pandemic, we remain dedicated to helping apprentices build the skills and knowledge they need for a rewarding career.

Oliver Cutforth is an Apprentice Project Manager based in Bristol. Today he is sharing a little bit about what his role entails and what he has learned so far.

What does your job involve? What does your day-to-day look like?

It’s pretty varied, partly due to my role being split between project management and project control tasks, and because of the changing context between projects.

My project management roles can be completing project progress reports, assisting with change requests and maintenance of project documentation. My project controls tasks typically include creating and updating project schedules and analysing risk for projects through running 3-point estimates.

The main project I am involved in is in the construction phase, so normally I will work from our site office two days a week, which is a nice break from working at home.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship? What are the advantages of doing one?

I didn’t choose to go into an apprenticeship at first. I went to university for a year but decided that it wasn’t the educational path I wanted. Although I learnt a lot of theory and when you might use certain models or documents, it lacked the real-world input and hands-on experience.

I have found learning on the job far more interesting, valuable, and fast paced. You also learn a lot about other disciplines outside your learning area, be that through osmosis or involvement in a multidisciplinary team.

What do you like the most about project management so far?

The variety. I am, at some level, involved with each discipline and stakeholders in a project and it’s that understanding of and involvement in a range of tasks that I enjoy the most.

What’s been the most challenging thing about the job?

The studying aspect is a balancing act between trying to take on more responsibility and learning, but also writing up my portfolio and evidencing my work so far. I probably neglected that a bit at the start, but I feel I have a good balance now. Some of the things I’ve learned from Project Controls have likely helped a lot there.

What type of projects have you worked on so far?

Due to the need to tick off each learning area for the apprenticeship, I have worked on a range of construction projects, from infrastructure redevelopment of a train station or car parks to large residential developments, commercial spaces, and MoD technical facilities.

What has surprised you the most so far about either the role or the industry?

There really isn’t a stupid question! When starting, I obviously had very limited experience, but everyone (both internally and from clients) has been helpful and given me time to learn whether by answering a quick question after a meeting or through a couple of hours of formal sit-down to run through a document.

What qualifications will you have at the end of your training and how does that help your career progression?

In April I will sit my Project Management Qualification (PMQ) exam and by early 2022, I will have to submit and present my portfolio of work, after which I can become an Associate Member of the APM. Three years after that, I can go for full APM membership.

Having nationally and industry recognised qualifications will add a lot of value and more trust in my ability when submitting my CV to clients for company bids or job applications.

What would you tell other young people who are considering but on the fence about getting into an apprenticeship?

It will be challenging, engaging, fast paced, but importantly, a supportive leaning experience. You won’t be thrown into the deep end. I’ve done, and still do, my fair share of basic admin. It’s a gradual process of taking on more responsibility. You’re allowed to walk before you can run.

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