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Blog: Construction’s new generation of talent

Two young Scots, Kirsten and Roddy share their experience of taking an apprenticeship in the Construction sector.

#ScotAppWeek24 Apprenticeships Modern apprenticeships Work-based learning

With around 8,000 apprentices, there are more apprentices training in Construction than any other sector of Scotland’s economy.

Looking to the future, Skills Development Scotland estimates that the country needs 70,000 new entrants to the sector in the next decade to meet industry demand.

Two young Scots, Kirsten and Roddy share their experience of taking an apprenticeship in the Construction sector.

Kirsten Officer, Technical Apprentice – Cabling, Balfour Beatty

I chose engineering when leaving school because I wanted to work in an area with a strong maths background and this ultimately led me to engineering.

I didn’t quite know which type of engineering I wanted to do but this was narrowed down when the apprenticeship was advertised. The idea of an apprentice interested me, as I enjoy working. I wanted to learn on the job while also working towards my degree.

I study BEng(Hons) Electrical Power Engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University. Being in my 3rd year now, I am nearing the end and look forward to my career beyond my apprenticeship. My university has been active in my learning with constant communication between my line manager and university mentor. This has allowed me to ensure all coursework is complete and I have effectively time managed through the process.

Kirsten Officer

Support to succeed

When starting my apprenticeship, I underestimated the level of learning I was about to embark on. It has been more than my degree. It’s working towards being qualified in a highly technical area with no prior knowledge. Initially this can be daunting but, the reality is, I have always been supported through every step of each process, always had people to lean on and I have always been filled with confidence where possible. I have learned that it is beneficial to my development to get things wrong and start again.

During my time with Balfour Beatty, I have been part of the high voltage cable system design team while also being involved with the early careers programme within the business. The early careers programme allowed us access to the ‘Brathay challenge’, which is an apprentice team challenge for all Balfour Beatty apprentices. The challenge allowed the team to visit many schools and attend events highlighting the importance of apprenticeships.

Reaching the next generation

Alongside the challenge we were very active on social media and this allowed for increased engagement at our stalls. We often found, when I was stood behind the stall, more girls engaged. This highlighted to us the importance of being relatable and approachable.

In my day-to-day job my line manager is very hands on with our progression and this support has enabled me to be successful thus far. It has been important to submerge in the environment and learn from the many professionals around me to continuously increase my technical knowledge in my path to becoming a qualified engineer. The apprenticeship has taught me many things, from gaining experience of public speaking to meeting deadlines while working towards completing my degree. These challenges have all given me attributes I will take forward throughout my whole career.

The things that have helped me succeed beyond just completing the degree apprenticeship is effective use of a mentor. Bethany has been vital in my progression, showing me just how important women in industry are and pushing me out of my comfort zone in more than one occasion. These experiences have taught me to continue the change and be the next role model to girls. But I think it is time to become more relatable. School students don’t have LinkedIn. We challenged an old way of marketing through the challenge and proved that TikTok was getting attention.

Roddy McCafferty, Joinery apprenticeship, HM Raitt

My journey into the world of joinery and construction was a bit different to the conventional route of going straight from high school into an apprenticeship.

I came into the industry after dropping out of a philosophy degree at the University of Glasgow that felt like it just wasn’t for me.

Feeling fed up of deadlines and the stress that comes with academic work, I found relief when I began working as a labourer on a site in Portobello.

I threw myself into the hard work and found a sense of belonging while working as part of a small team.

CITB Apprentice Parliament 34

A new direction

I will always owe a debt to the construction world for helping me feel grounded again in a period of my life in which I felt lost.
It was while working as a labourer that many of the skilled workers that I was working alongside became role models for me and I began toying with the idea of an apprenticeship and getting a trade. This led me to HM Raitt, where I served my apprenticeship and where I continue to work today.

I would be lying if I said that swapping the world of cosy university seminar rooms for stripped back, bare freezing cold houses did not present a stark contrast. The slightly insincere politeness of Glasgow uni, as opposed to the blunt honesty that exists in the building trade did also admittedly take some slight adjustment.

Learning from others

The first job I worked with HM Raitt was fitting a kitchen with Jimmy Douglas, a joiner nearing the end of his career who had served his apprenticeship with Raitts followed by 40 plus years of loyal service. Always methodical in the way he worked and with an excruciating attention to detail, he never seemed to be pressured by time. Almost as if he had earned the right to be rushed by absolutely no one.

Looking back, I think I could not have had a better mentor as an introduction to joinery, he embodied the philosophy of if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, taking pride in his work and uttering the mantra often echoed at HM Raitt: if you wouldn’t have it in your own house then it should be done again, properly.

There were other perks to working with Jimmy; you always had a surefire way of getting an extended break . All you had to do was get him on the topic of motorcross, 80s hard rock, or his grandson and you could put your feet up because you wouldn’t be getting up for another hour.

Another memorable period of my apprenticeship was my commute to work while working for a time in East Lothian before I had got round to getting my driving licence. It seemed my nearest lift was Macmerry (10 miles from my house in the South of Edinburgh) and about an hour long cycle. It wasn’t so bad in the morning; although cold, dark and sometimes wet it was mostly downhill. The real challenge came at the end of each work day when, after putting in a solid 8.5 hour shift, I would have the dreaded 10 mile uphill cycle to look forward to. Had it not been for the the picturesque scenery of Tranent to lift my spirits I think it might have broken me and I might not be standing before you today.

Rewarding work

And although in this sense the world of construction can be hard and unforgiving, there are things that make it worthwhile. The feeling of reward that comes when you persist with a problem the solution to which at first seems unclear. Being able to visibly see the result of your efforts at the end of each work day. The feeling of getting lost in a task, being completely consumed by it. So focused on seeing it through that the hours just seem to fly by. Getting lost in these small every day tasks , and losing sight of the big picture it easy to trivialise and forget the importance of what we do.

As insignificant as our work can feel at times, it is through the collective effort of many people that these daily tasks add up and culminate in the creation of cities: we shape the environment, the skylines and the rooms folk sleep in, putting roofs over families and businesses, creating spaces for people to go on and do great things. I think for this reason that it is so important that we foster an environment for learning and create a culture of passing on knowledge.

This is why apprenticeships are so important and should be valued by quality construction companies. I will always be very grateful for the opportunity I received to do my apprenticeship and I hope we strive to bring in and nurture new talent in the industry.