Ben Cowdrey is a digital construction apprentice for Kier Major Projects in Basingstoke. Here, Ben talks about why he was decided to do an apprenticeship, how he deals with his disability through a positive attitude and the inclusive environment that’s helping to support him.

“I have always found the built environment fascinating so when the opportunity arose to begin a digital construction apprenticeship I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. As a mature student, I opted to go down the route of an apprenticeship as it has given me the freedom to progress with my career whilst still running a household and paying bills. It has also given me the chance to learn, grow and develop skills whilst also applying them to a working environment.

I have a condition called Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), this means that my body and brain are perfectly healthy but can sometimes get disconnected, resulting in mixed messages being sent. This can cause weakness, movement disorders or involuntary movements, such as twitching or minor bodily shakes. The symptoms of FND are different for each individual person and there is no specific test for it, meaning patients can go for a long time without a diagnosis. Due to the variety of symptoms, treatment for the condition is difficult and everyone that has FND has care tailored to their specific needs.

Despite having FND I have always kept a positive mindset and I have found different trick and ways to help me manage my condition – as an example, if I have any mobility issues, rubbing my index finger and thumb together results in normality. For me, it’s also mind over matter; I have found that if I think I can’t achieve something, or I give up, my condition gets worse. Sometimes I need a bit longer to achieve a goal, but I don’t let anything stand in the way of being successful.

At Kier, the people I work with have always been supportive of my condition. I can’t sing the praises of my line manager and colleagues enough – if I’m having a day where my walking is suffering, they slow down to my pace and my line manager has always let me have time off to attend hospital or doctors’ appointments. This support has always made me feel comfortable to talk about my condition and being able to do this has meant that I can increase awareness of FND to my colleagues and the wider Kier workforce.

A career in the built environment is often not seen as a choice for someone with a disability like mine. There are misconceptions that the industry only offers manual roles, and this can deter people with disabilities from considering the built environment as a career choice.  This couldn’t be further from the truth and there are lot of opportunities for people to join this industry, disabled or otherwise. Kier ensures that no matter what your condition, you are given all the support possible to do your job to the best of your ability and develop your skills.

My apprenticeship has already opened a vast number of doors and opportunities, this is helped by the dedication of Kier and my colleagues to encourage continued development of my career. My condition hasn’t held me back at all, I’ve been given the chance to take my career in many directions, something I could only dream about before. At Kier I feel like my disability is just another part of me, not something that defines me.”

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