Shirley Parsons are advocates of any training scheme or qualification that fosters the next generation of SHE professionals. Philip Muston, Managing Consultant at Shirley Parsons and I recently met with Ian Nixon, Highways and Nuclear SHE Manager at Costain, to discuss the part he has played in developing the SHE apprenticeship. Eager beginners will be able to enrol on the scheme over the coming months.

Speaking to people within the industry as recruiters and career agents, Shirley Parsons are often asked for advice about starting a career in Health and Safety. We typically suggest that there are two elements to ‘getting your foot in the door’ and becoming a fully-fledged Health and Safety professional: attaining the relevant qualifications and combining it with hands-on experience. The SHE apprenticeship aims to combine these two crucial elements.

“Making a difference, changing people’s lives”

Conceived in 2016 during a London Health and Safety directors’ group discussion, the idea for this type of programme developed through analysis of the industry’s current utilisation of graduates and young talent. Based on the success of the established graduate and apprentice training programme at Costain, the CITB and IOSH were in agreement that it would be beneficial to somehow convert this training programme into a formally recognised entry level (Level 3) qualification. They agreed that this type of qualification ought to be accessible across the industry, and thus the SHE apprenticeship was born. Ian Nixon volunteered as the Chair of the Trailblazer group, with a view to formalising the scheme. Having successfully progressed through a graduate programme himself, Ian was able to draw from his own experience to develop the scheme effectively at Costain.

Initial Interest

Based on this initial discussion, interest was predominantly expressed within the construction sector. High profile industry leaders were in agreement over the benefits of a SHE apprenticeship. This was mostly due to the significant advantages of hands-on SHE experience in this sector.

In March, the scheme was approved in principle and it was Ian’s prerogative to deliver the framework for how it might realistically take shape moving forward. Considering the primary interest of these parties, the original scheme was drafted for the construction industry, however, this has since been broadened to be suitable for any industry.

An article in the IOSH magazine was subsequently published, whereby Ian was able to gauge interest from other organisations across a variety of sectors. Ian stressed that the response was phenomenal. He described how over 100 organisations from a wide range of sectors believed in the SHE apprenticeship as a means to strengthen the profession, and were willing to participate in the programme. In April, Ian presented an outline for the programme at a meeting hosted by the National Theatre, another of the trailblazer organisations. Over 50 people attended and participated in a workshop to review the proposed content of the standard and assessment plan. This helped the programme gain substantial traction and widespread exposure, further emphasising the emerging need for a qualification of this type to be developed.

“The scheme will be officially launched in early 2018”

The standard for the SHE apprenticeship was approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) on the 19th July 2017 and Ofqual approved the assessment plan on 14th September 2017. The assessment plan is now at the final stage awaiting approval from IfA. Once approved training providers will be able to sign up to deliver the course enabling the first learners to start in early 2018.

Benefits for companies

We asked Ian why companies might be keen to employ apprentices and whether they are financially able to do so. He described how employers can adopt the programme through the use of the apprentice levy, which subsidises training: the government financially support the scheme, and the money contributed will be spent exclusively on developing apprentices.

At this stage, Costain are looking to commit to having at least 2 SHE apprentices per year. With the current interest in the scheme, this should equate to roughly 150 apprentices hired annually in England. He highlighted that in its current form, the scheme seems to be a more attractive option for larger organisations looking to develop and retain staff. This may be due to the fact that SMEs have fewer resources resulting in SHE functions that are either outsourced or thinly stretched. This means they are less able to dedicate resources to the programme. This doesn’t, however, mean that the path may not be paved for these types of organisations to utilise the scheme moving forward.

Currently, Costain have two individuals within the team that have been undergoing a trial SHE apprenticeship. Ian described how these two individuals have been making excellent progress: both began with varying levels of knowledge, and a more vocational approach has enabled them to combine their technical understanding with the operational validation and reinforcement of day-to-day SHE activities. Emily said “Having dropped out of University and with no clue what I wanted to do, I decided that I would quite like to look at Health and Safety. After completing some work experience which I loved, I was left extremely disappointed upon realising there was no way for me to train as an apprentice in my new chosen field.  After working for a while, and still enjoying Health and Safety, Costain offered to take me on and make sure I got the training I needed.  Now, finally, others like me will be able to train in Safety, Health and Environment from entry level, as the industry now offers an apprenticeship, and in doing so recognises that people learn differently.  Hopefully, this will open the door for anyone who has ever thought of Health and Safety as a career, but blanched at the idea of the amount of classroom time and written exams.  For me, being on site has meant more than any time spent in a classroom.”

What it entails

As it stands, Ian described how the structure of the academic side of the scheme teaches similar content to other level 3 health and safety qualifications.  The apprenticeship is made up of three distinct parts: a written knowledge-based exam, a portfolio based work project, and a professional discussion. Ian suggested that around 20% is made up of off-the-job learning and the other 80% will be taught in a practical manner on-site. The scheme will typically take 2 years, and following the completion, apprentices are eligible for Technical membership of IOSH.

In the future, Ian hopes that there will be a portfolio of SHE apprenticeships, providing numerous levels of qualification, through from level 3 to level 7 equivalent. A Master’s level tier of qualification is currently being developed elsewhere within the industry, providing a viable route into becoming an expert in the sector for experienced SHE professionals. Combining an academic standard with practical experience equips future Safety, Health and Environmental professionals where classroom-based qualifications currently fall short. This, coupled with the possible alignment with other similar schemes, again shows how the trailblazing work Ian has put into the SHE apprenticeship could yet prove industry changing.

“A prospective apprentice could be either a foreman or line manager looking to up skill themselves”

Numerous people hoping to enrol have already contacted Ian about the scheme – he stressed that the stigma around apprenticeships being exclusively available to 16-24-year-olds is becoming less and less relevant, and he is confident that it will reach all types of individuals across all types of industries.  Ian stated that the existence of an apprenticeship cultivates a “great pool of skilled people in the industry”. Ian also hopes to attract people into the industry from more diverse backgrounds, to widen the pool of candidates and unlock levels of knowledge and talent that might inspire legislation and innovation in the future.

In the future

As a further advantage of the SHE apprenticeship, Ian hopes that apprentices trained are inspired to remain loyal to the places where they complete their learning. He highlighted that by building these relationships within organisations over the two-year course, apprentices who will already be permanent employees within the company will want to stay and create wholly embedded culture change. This will theoretically foster well-developed Safety, Health and Environmental practices and propel the sector to the next level.

“The need for a real alternative for gaining entry into the HSE market is becoming clearer and more urgent.”

With the unfortunate and saddening discontinuation of many of the Health and Safety based courses at universities nationally, there is a real danger that the next crop of

SHE professionals will find it increasingly hard to gain the necessary qualifications to start or advance their career. The need for a real alternative for gaining entry into the SHE market is becoming clearer and more urgent. Thus, the timing and quality of the SHE apprenticeship highlights its value to the sector. It will provide a viable entry point into a market that, historically, has struggled to attract younger talent and is an opportunity to inspire and cultivate an outstanding next generation of Safety, Health and Environmental professionals.


Ian Nixon

Ian Nixon is the Highways & Nuclear Sector SHE Manager at Costain. Having progressed through the graduate scheme at Costain, Ian takes a lead in developing new HSEQ talent within the business and across the sector.

Rachel Corbett

Rachel Corbett is a Specialist Recruitment Consultant at Shirley Parsons, responsible for sourcing Health and Safety professionals in the manufacturing sectors. Rachel also works alongside the Executive Search team at Shirley Parsons. For more information on any of these or other sectors, please get in touch on 01296 611323 or at