Regional heats see trainees in trades such as Joinery, Bricklaying and Painting and Decorating put through their paces under the watchful eye of expert judges.
Painting and decorating apprentice Emma Louise MacKenzie knows what it takes to turn an old piece of furniture into something new and beautiful, using just a few clever paint and wallpaper tricks.
The 23 year-old upcycling fan from Inverness clearly knows her art - she won first place as a ‘new entrant’ in the Painting and Decorating competition at the SkillBuild 2017 regional heat, held at South Lanarkshire College and organised by CITB.
But creative Emma wasn’t always aware of her own talents.
At 18, Emma fell pregnant – and her life drastically changed.
“I found myself in a situation similar to many other single mothers,” she said. “How could I afford to live, find a job I love and look after my little girl all at the same time?”
“I got a couple of part time jobs – a cleaner in a hospital and some shifts in a call centre. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, although I wasn’t sure what else I could do, and I found it a bit depressing.”
“As soon as I got a new flat though, I started decorating and upcycling things. I really enjoyed being creative and I discovered I was pretty good at it. It inspired me to go on and make a career of it – I just thought, ‘it’s now or never!’”
In 2015, Emma began a part time introductory course for a National Progression Award (NPA) at Inverness College. She spent the remainder of the week completing work experience placements with New Start Highland, learning new upcycling, recycling and painting skills.
“Combining my college training with work experience meant that I could apply for jobs at the same time. I soon got a new role with Nodram Decorators in Inverness, and now I’m in the first year of my apprenticeship at Inverness College. I never thought it would be possible for me to earn and learn at the same time, and better still, I’m doing something that I really love. I’m very lucky to have a supportive family, who help to look after my little girl while I’m working.”
“So far, I’ve learned loads more about myself and the skills I’m capable of. I started off thinking that upcycling was my favourite thing to do, but now I’ve discovered it’s wallpapering! I like it because it’s such a challenge, you just have to have a little patience.”
Emma will qualify in 2019, after which a range of career options will be available to her.
“I’ve been thinking about the possibility of studying for a degree in construction management, but I also like the idea of becoming self-employed. The thought of running my own upcycling-based business and having clients interested in interior design is very exciting.”
Emma hopes that her experience will show other young women that becoming a single parent at a young age doesn’t necessarily spell an end to career ambitions. “At first, getting a job was all about securing a better future for my daughter. Now, it’s actually about me too. Working in the construction industry has allowed me to make a success of myself. I’m really looking forward to the future.”
Painting and Decorating apprentice Kiera Lamerton, 19, from City College Plymouth, has a great message for anyone considering a construction career. She says: ‘No matter what your age or gender is it’s your dream, your life, do what you want to do.’
“It took me a long time to decide to do painting and decorating because people used to say: ‘Ah, men do it,’ or ‘Girls don’t do that’ so I went into hairdressing which is perceived as a girls’ industry. But then I had my daughter, Alexia Rose, and thought, ‘No, I’ll do what I want to do.’
“Before Alexia, who is 15 months old, I had a lot of trouble in school and with my last course. I realised I needed to change my life around. I wanted to give my daughter someone to be proud of, she inspired me.
“At the moment I’m going to college. It’s amazing there. You get taught everything you need and there’s a great atmosphere. I finish my Level 1 NVQ in July 2017. I’ll do Level 2 and 3 as well which will take another two years.
“I’d like to own my own business one day, but if I work for a business I don’t mind. I just want to be a painter and decorator.
“Taking part in SkillBuild was hard but it was an amazing experience. There was a great atmosphere. Everyone helped each other. It didn’t feel like we were rushing against each other; it was a fun time to do what you love.
“I’d say “go for it” to anyone interested in pursuing a construction career. It doesn’t matter if you’re told it’s just for boys, don’t care what people think. If you want to go for it you go for it, it’s the best thing to do, it’s your dream, your life.”
Second-year CITB bricklaying apprentice Daniel Triscott, 25, from City Plymouth College, plans to work abroad when he is fully qualified.
Daniel says: “I was a labourer until I started my apprenticeship. I knew Sandy Lyons from CITB and two guys who did a bricklaying apprenticeship. I observed them, started my apprenticeship and began working with Sandy.
“Sandy was very helpful. She was like a mentor during the first year of my apprenticeship. I’d see her once a month. She’d ask if I was alright, if I needed anything, if I was being treated well. She was a proper top lady.
“I spend one day at college and four days on site. My plan is to qualify and work in the UK for five years. I’d like to secure experience and money and then work in Australia, to travel there feeling confident. Bricklayers with a Level 3 NVQ are sought-after and paid well so that’s my plan. There’s good money in bricklaying. I can earn £200 a day even now.
“I’d recommend bricklaying to anyone who enjoys physical work and the outdoors. It might not be for everyone but there’s many different roles in construction and each have their own perks, there’s pros and cons to each trade.
“You’re guaranteed a good laugh in bricklaying, good banter on site. I like going to work; it’s not a chore like when you’re 16 and going to school. It’s like a second home once you’ve acclimatised to your job. I’d say ‘just go for it’ to anyone interested in a construction career.”
Exeter College Carpentry Apprentice James Cope, 32, says returning to learning has been a very positive experience, one which will stand him in good stead for future work.
James says: “I worked on-and-off in construction as a labourer, on roofs and steel-frame buildings. I’ve worked in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe but now I’m settling down. I decided to do an apprenticeship as I wanted a bit of paper to my name, good qualifications.
“When I get my Level 2 NVQ I may do a Level 3. It’s easier to travel for work and progress further in carpentry if you have a Level 3. I’ll see how the bank balance is doing before deciding!
“Returning to learning has been quite hard financially but apart from that I had no reservations about going back to college at an older age. It took me a long time but I made up my mind on what I wanted to do and now I’m getting on with it.
“I spend four days a week with my boss, a general builder/carpenter, doing extensions and renovations. The company is called Gentleman Builders, it’s in Devon, and we try to live up to the name! I’m at college every Thursday doing practical work like hand skills, then I’ll do a few hours of theory – health and safety, looking at plans, that kind of thing.
“Doing an apprenticeship has been brilliant. I’ve learnt a lot and I’d recommend it to anyone. I think there will be a lot of work for carpenters, there will be a big demand for new houses in the future."