BLOG: How planning led to pleasure – an apprentice’s tale
James Lau, Assistant Engineer in our Highways and Transportation team, reflects on how the apprenticeship levy led to a ‘wheelie-good’ change of fortune in his career.
Until 2019, my day job in the Highways team had been assessing planning applications.
Then everything changed – thanks to the apprenticeship levy.
I saw a Council ad for free project management training via the levy, and so I enrolled on a level 4 apprenticeship in APM Project Management.
The big change to my day-to-day was that it required me to work on an actual project, and I found myself working alongside the cycling officer on a bid to introduce e-cargo bikes.
The funding bid was unsuccessful but this led to me to working on a project to introduce a “learn-to-ride facility” in Liverpool.
This project also relied on external grant funding, and this time I wrote a successful application!
The learn-to-ride project became known as the “Mini-Roads” scheme – which would require the conversion of an out-of-use amphitheatre in Everton Park – but it faced some major challenges.
Firstly, the grant (British Cycling’s Places to Ride investment scheme) covered part of the estimated costs, but not all.
Fortunately, having worked with the Planning Team I knew about Section 106 monies and was able to write another successful application.
Then before I knew it I quickly found myself as the project manager and all that entails from stakeholder engagement, to procurement etc.
This was a huge step for me, and it also presented a big challenge to managing my course!
Then the scope of the project increased to include carbon capture features, like a carbon-friendly version of asphalt for the track and a wildflower garden. Such increases meant that I had to look for more funding, and managing the expectations of stakeholders.
My dual role as a Highways Planner and Project Manager has made me more time-efficient and decisive. I have come to appreciate project management tools like Gantt Charts to track the tasks and their timescales. I have become familiar with other Council functions and processes, and I have come to realise that things can take much longer than expected!
I am grateful the Council gave me the opportunity to embark on this course, which I completed, achieving a Merit in APM Project Management. I am amazed that I helped to bring the Mini Roads to fruition, seeing it develop as a concept into a full Highways project – with such little resources available! I am also very appreciative of my line manager, who has supported me all the way.
The Mini-Roads is a project very much for the community, as well as encouraging and promoting cycling as a sustainable travel choice, and I feel privileged to have helped deliver it.
Seeing the smiles on the faces of the children as they cycled around the course at its launch last week was a feeling I’ll treasure for a long, long time.