10th February 2022

From apprentice to director, a success story

During National Apprenticeship Week (7th – 13th February), we caught up with one of our directors, who began his career as an apprentice.

David Buckley, Director of Rail and Strata at Van Elle, was inspired to pursue a career in construction following an apprenticeship in a geotechnics department at the age of 16.

He is now responsible for the Rail and Strata divisions, managing a combined team of over 120 to deliver ground investigation, piling, civils, and ground engineering.

He said: “While apprenticeships are sometimes dismissed for more traditional education pathways such as college and university, they are a fantastic route into our industry.

“An apprenticeship for me meant that I still gained qualifications at the same time as having work experience, so it kick-started my career.”

David who joined Van Elle in 2021 had always wanted to become an engineer after his father – who worked for an engineering company – inspired him to take on work experience in the drawing office with him.

He said: “My father definitely inspired me to pursue a career in engineering, it was following this work experience that led me to look down the route of apprenticeships.

“It allowed me the opportunity to learn new skills whilst earning money and gaining valuable experience, which gave me fantastic opportunities to develop as an individual.”

Following his apprenticeship, David went on to study for an ONC, HNC and then onto a degree in Civil Engineering, achieving a First Class BEng degree.

David rose through the ranks in various roles, working on several gauging and electrification schemes, gaining experience of track, civils, mechanical engineering, design and eventually becoming Director and General Manager of a rail technology business.

He’s had the privilege of being on a “Future Leaders Programme” in which he had leadership training, mentoring and was part of a cohort of young managers aspiring leadership.

David is also a fellow of the Permanent Way Institute (PWI) and Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and has also represented the UK as chairman of a European panel for gauging standards.

When asked what the best thing about his job is, he said: “I enjoy watching people flourish and I love a job well done.

“I hope to encourage others into the industry through apprenticeships as our industry continues to tackle the ongoing skills shortage.

“Apprenticeships are an excellent way to improve things. If we can change the perceptions of our industry to make it more attractive to the next generation the construction skills crisis will improve.

“I also think diversity has a massive role to play and is something we need to focus on.

“Ultimately, apprenticeships allow businesses to develop their future workforce and fill those critical skills gaps now and in the future.

“Apprenticeship can be hard work and during my career I’ve definitely made a few mistakes, but also gained a huge amount of confidence in leadership as well as engineering.”

David says the advice that has stayed with him ever since his apprenticeship is to make the most of every opportunity presented to you and when asked if he recommends apprenticeships, David said: “Definitely, without hesitation.”

Kick-start your career through an apprenticeship today, view our vacancies here.