A chat with Apprentice Willow-Athena Hempell

A chat with Apprentice Willow-Athena Hempell

This #NAW2020, we catch up with Willow-Athena Hempell of WSP, apprentice winner at last year's Consultancy and Engineering Awards


I feel incredibly honoured to receive such an award, there was such a vast array of highly skilled apprentices nominated, for me being highly commended really meant a lot.



Question 1: What do you most enjoy about your apprenticeship?


That is genuinely such a tough decision, I enjoy so much about my apprenticeship it is hard to pick just one! I’ll pick two to be difficult instead! The people and the projects, the two P’s that make everything about my job so much fun and such an enjoyable job to do.


To work with top industry professionals especially in a somewhat niche discipline – wastewater – is beyond amazing to me and to have such a diverse team with skills and knowledge helps you tailor what kind of professional you chose to be! 

I spent a lot of my first year learning the ropes – as I started back in September ’17 – and trying to understand all things wastewater and I think this period really helped in understanding how the team worked and what was expected from me as a new starter. I got my first official project at the end of 2018 and ever since then I feel like I haven’t slowed down! There have been so many opportunities since then that have derived from this first project and from the people around me that I am so thankful for and brought me to where I am today. 


Question 2: What would be your advice to anyone considering an apprenticeship?


If you see a job that you are interested in that offers an apprenticeship, go for it! Apprenticeships help people not only by streamlining your early career and further education, it helps you to become a well-rounded individual in a discipline you love. It is honestly the best thing I ever did!



Question 3: What’s an average day between work/college?


It is such a change of pace between a workday and a college day! Workdays vary so much, I work on a variety of projects now and must balance my time effectively between them. I spend a vast amount of time with the client driving face-to-face meetings multiple days of the week along with usually working one day a week out of their office to support them where needed. The other 3 days of the week is in my local WSP office, continuing with projects in the Derby office so I am around to support the WSP team where needed and can set up future meetings. Where I can, I fit in some coding training to help in automating processes so that there is more time to focus on work that cannot be easily automated and requires technical knowledge.


College is a whole new kettle of fish! As I am a Derby local and study my degree in Coventry, it is usually quite a long day, but it is a nice way to break up the working week! In a 13-week term, I study up to 2 modules in this period from 9AM to 6PM and this includes lectures, tutorials and some interactive labs to conduct various tests. I am on a course where everyone in my class are apprentices, so we all come in with discipline specific skills and knowledge and work really well together and help each other out.



Question 4: How has your mentor/buddy or line manager helped your professional development?


Honestly my line manager is my rock! He is such a massive support to not just me but the entire Derby team, he is such a well-rounded professional that opened a lot of doors for me. I honestly believe had it not been for John I would not have achieved half as much in twice the time! He has taught me so much that it is hard to put into words how thankful I am to have him as my manager.


We have 1-2-1 meetings every week/fortnight depending how busy we are and just talk through work, potential stresses and how to plan and deal with them. Talking through many of projects and processing what client expectations are or how to work around an issue, John and I have been able to tackle a lot of issues just by communicating and wrapping our heads together to solve it.


I have honestly been so lucky to have such a supportive line manager! 



Question 5: How do you balance your work and study?


This is something that takes time to learn, but communication is key. I make my team and the client aware about when I am back at uni so that all parties are aware about deadlines that may be difficult to meet when I am at uni. This allows us to plan time effectively and delegate work where possible to ease up some time and meet deadlines. Most of my uni work is done in my own time as I usually hold on to my training to learn on-the-job skills which is how I learnt about various coding systems but that is the great thing about apprenticeships you can use that time as you deem fit!