A spotlight has been on the Construction Industry’s need to tackle it’s growing training and apprenticeship crisis for sometime. Indeed, No More Lost Generations: Creating Construction Jobs for Young, a report commissioned by a group of Parliamentarians several years ago, was aimed at raising awareness and tackling this very issue. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) published a post highlighting the plummeting number of construction related apprenticeships in the UK back in February 2014 and now, in the last few days, Construction Union UCATT wrote an article on their site highlighting the derisory number of newly qualified apprentices.
However, amongst this gloomy trend are some companies that have been very successful in hiring young people through both the Apprenticeship and Trainee route. One such company is RW Joinery.
RW Joinery is one of the UK’s leading doorset manufacturers and installation contractors in England, working with clients such as Laing O’Rourke, Pochin, Carillion and Balfour Beatty. With nearly 50 years deeply rooted in the construction industry, they have historically embraced both Apprenticeships and Traineeships. In fact, they have managed to do this so effectively that they have employees who began as Apprentices as far back as 30 years ago, that today hold senior roles in first line management within the company.
During National Apprenticeship Week 2016, one such former Apprentice, Andy Harrop discussed with local MP Ann Coffey during her visit to the workshop, how he had seen big changes in the appeal of Apprenticeships since he joined as one in 1981.
“I do find lads that come forward to do Apprenticeships now are very scarce. Whereas if we had advertised for an Apprentice Joiner twenty-five years ago they’d had been a queue down the road, but now you only get a small amount that want to do a physical job.”
RW Joinery’s Tom Chandler, 22 years old, Assistant QS, joined the company as a Trainee QS four years ago. He added “when I was at college they were struggling for numbers on the physical side of the construction courses, whereas on the theory side they had a lot of applicants.”
So is there a case to say that the construction industry is finding it more difficult to compete with other non physical sectors, for example the technology type industries, when attracting youth through the Apprentice and Trainee routes.
The opinion of an apprentice joiner
Jake Stafford, 20 years old, a current Apprentice Joiner at RW Joinery said that may well be the case. However, personally, he was drawn to the physical job as he liked to create something physical that he could touch. We asked Jake to tell us his story of what it was like to be an Apprentice Joiner.
Why was the Apprenticeship Scheme the right route for you?
Generally speaking, it was the right route for me because I could learn a skill whilst earning money. Also I had heard of the career progression stories from former Apprentices at the company and that made sense for me to follow in their footsteps.
Describe your day-to-day role.
In my current role I start my day off on the CNC machine, cutting out locks and drop seals. Then in the afternoon I may move onto putting together frames and doorsets.
How do you find it being an Apprentice?
I find the Apprenticeship as a whole quite a challenge, but it’s a fun experience. Getting up in the morning can be quite tough, but it’s good to come to work with the people. We have a laugh and I get taught new things all the time.
What is it like being in a company that has former Apprentices?
Having other Apprentices that have been here for a while teaching me has been great. Tthey obviously know what it feels like to be in my position and know how to handle the situation. Also they know the company so well so it has made things a lot easier for me.
Would you recommend a physical type Apprenticeship to others?
It is hard work, but it’s rewarding and I’d definitely recommend it to others.
The opinion of the apprentice employer
We then asked RW Joinery’s Production Director, Donald Cameron how he found Apprenticeships from the employer, business and operations point of view.
Why are Apprenticeships important for the company?
For the longevity of the business we need to ensure that these skills are not lost. That goes part and parcel with Apprenticeships because we need to ensure skills we have gained are passed on. That’s a win win situation. In terms of how important they are to our business? Very important. It’s almost the lifeblood of this business.
In your opinion how are Apprenticeships different to traditional educational routes?
Whereas you have the educational aspect of the skills that you happen to be learning, I feel it’s vitally important to get hands on experience as well. It’s a good combination because you are learning the rules and regs of the skillset if you like at college, whereas the practical day-to-day hands on timber in your hands feel is best learnt practicing or doing on job work. My experience is that people who are trained in that way perform better, in a shorter period of time than people who perhaps go to college full-time for two to three years and then come onto the job. As well as the practical skills they have the make-up to be able to work within a team on a project. Although that is encouraged at colleges I fell it is better proved by actually working with the people you are working with.
What are the career progressions for an Apprentice at RW Joinery?
In terms of my own position, there should be no bars, no exclusions for an Apprentice one day having my position. They learn the basic skills of the job and providing they have the drive and ambition to move forward, there are no limitations here at RW Joinery. We are actually looking for people that can progress consistently because it helps the business grow, encourages the individual to remain within the organisation and therefore we are not losing the skill set that we have worked hard to train.
So to conclude. Although on the whole Apprenticeships and Traineeships may be diminishing within the construction industry, it is evident that in RW Joinery’s case, the path to success and the relationship between both Apprentice/Trainee and the business is somewhat intrinsically linked and will continue to be for years to come.