A leading specialist interior fit-out contractor is celebrating four decades of its apprenticeship partnership with a Leicester college recruiting 15 youngsters despite Covid-19.
John Richardson was among the first apprentices that EE Smith Contracts Ltd sent to the former Southfield College – which became known as Leicester College in 1999 – to complete a carpentry and joinery course through City & Guilds.
He has now risen through the ranks to become production director at the highly-successful business on the Clarendon Industrial Estate in Leicester and is among the recruits from EE Smith Contracts to have completed apprenticeship courses at Leicester College over the last 38 years which includes 47 over the last six years.
Fifteen apprentices have been taken on by EE Smith Contracts this autumn across various departments, including bench hand joinery, machining, veneering, the spray shop/finishing facility, door manufacturing, metalwork, on-site installation, in the on-site offices and also in the drawing office as draughtsmen and women in Leicester and London.
EE Smith Contracts has worked on a string of top international hotels in London – including The Londoner, the Grosvenor House, The Langham and The Savoy – along with commercial buildings and super-prime residences.
The apprentices’ study for their NVQ level apprenticeships at Leicester College one day a week while EE Smith Contracts also sponsors employees with higher learning through online degree courses.
Its investment in its staff has led to the business being ranked 28th in the UK’s Top 100 Apprentice Employers – which celebrates 100 of the country’s most outstanding apprenticeship employers – across all sectors and it was placed highest within the construction sector.
John is an advocate of apprenticeships since he followed in the footsteps of his dad, Basil, who was the company’s first apprentice as a 14-year-old making pewter basins before serving in the Royal Navy in World War II and becoming managing director of the business in 1947 aged just 24.
He said: “We have always been keen to invest in our apprentices as they are the future of the business.
“EE Smith Contracts started sending apprentices to the former Southfield College in 1982 and I went there 34 years ago!
“It stood me in good stead since I learnt the skills I needed to go from apprentice to a bench joiner, foreman, production manager and production director, and it says a great deal about the advantages of completing an apprenticeship since the majority of the factory management team have come through the apprenticeship scheme.
“By branching out in even more departments, the scheme has become essential for our growth, survival and success since among our 350-strong workforce, we currently have 45 apprentices which is a high proportion compared to many businesses.
“We also run the apprenticeship scheme through Stratford College London and West London College as part of our work on prestigious developments such as hotels and private residences in the capital as well as Didac College who are a little more specialised and allow us to train our apprentices to suit their area of practice.
“It surprises me that there aren’t more businesses investing in similar schemes when it has so many benefits!”
Aaron Carter, Apprentice Lead for Construction Craft at Leicester College, said: “EE Smith Contracts is a large, local employer with an excellent reputation. We’re proud to continue our long-standing partnership with them to train the next generation of skilled tradespeople.
“It’s great for our students to have an established employer who is willing to train them through their apprenticeships. It’s a good environment in which to learn, with on the job experience and access to all of the necessary training required.
“We have a constant flow of apprentices working with the company each year and it forms a real career pathway for them to get employment with EE Smith Contracts and elsewhere in the industry.
“With increasing concerns about skills shortages, a steady flow of apprenticeships will help to alleviate that in the future, creating newly-skilled people with a real career focus.”
About Leicester College:
Leicester College offers a comprehensive range of technical, vocational and higher education qualifications across a broad range of subject areas, including ESOL, from entry to university level to around 20,000 students, who range in age from 14 to 94.