Opinion

‘Many people have forgotten construction’s next generation’

Lee Marley Brickwork’s new head office and graduate hub in London
Construction companies need to make young people aware of how varied the industry is and how many opportunities are open to them, says former apprentice and business owner Lee Marley.

As a former apprentice bricklayer, I appreciate the opportunities that a quality apprenticeship can offer. I set up Lee Marley Brickwork in 1997 when I was 24 and have made it my mission to encourage young talent into the sector.

The last two years have taught us how quickly things can change, and I think that many people have forgotten about the next generation. In the past people did apprenticeships because they thought they should, not necessarily because they wanted to. We need to make more young people aware of how varied the industry is and how many opportunities there are to progress, learn new skills and move up the ladder into different roles.

I want the next generation to be aware of these prospects and to look at the construction industry as a long-term career and as a future.  

Students need a really solid grounding and overall general knowledge about the industry and the company they work for. From day one employers need to explain the options available within the trade so students can understand the business they are investing in.

In 2020 we hired apprentice training manager Christian Hatherall-Good who mentors the students both on site and at our new graduate hub in Notting Hill in London. Training on the job through an apprenticeship is the best way to learn. Young people can earn a wage while learning and this is a great incentive.

“Working live on site with bricklayers through to management level and customers in head office offers graduates a real 360-degree experience and really helps a student’s confidence.”

Apprentices also need the opportunity in a training centre to practice new skills, gain knowledge and learn from their peers. I believe the next generation need a combination of behavioural coaching and up-to-the minute technical instruction, we need to offer them something more than the traditional model, such as specialist modules focusing on modern methods of construction, fire safety and quality assurance.

I feel it’s important to offer hands-on experience on live construction jobs but also within an office environment. By creating an in-house hub students can grow in confidence, learn how to treat customers, build on those relationships with both suppliers and clients and not get complacent. It’s almost like a bootcamp for apprentices getting them used to the office environment before they are straight out on site.

Working live on site with bricklayers through to management level and customers in head office offers graduates a real 360-degree experience and really helps a student’s confidence.

An enjoyable social environment is important to young people and leads to greater efficiency. This needs to be part of the package the industry offers. Students learn from and respect their peers, so let’s work with the trainees that we have who have completed their courses and get them to help and inspire new starters. We run a buddy scheme at the company where graduates and apprentices get to team up with a similarly aged and like-minded partner who is further up the ladder.

As a sector we need to start tapping into the next generation much earlier, schools and the government are helping to promote the industry and apprenticeships have become more acceptable over the last five years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We need more courses and work-based training, so kids are not getting into debt, and we need to spread the word that an apprenticeship in the construction industry is a long-term successful career plan rather than simply a placement.

Lee Marley Brickwork offers both brickwork and scaffolding apprenticeships to bring the next generation of tradespeople into the construction industry. We have 68 apprentices at 14 colleges around the UK and are looking to take on more this year.

Lee Marley is founder of Lee Marley Brickwork.

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