FIS member, EE Smith Contracts, is ranked 28th organisation in the UK’s Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers and fi rst in the construction industry. The 27 organisations above EE Smith Contracts are from other industries. They also picked up the Construction News Award for Finishes and Fit Out Specialists of the Year 2020. To find out how they do it, SpecFinish spoke to three members of staff who are instrumental in the success of their apprenticeship scheme.

First of all, we spoke to Victoria Bottrill, their Marketing and Pre-Construction Co-ordinator, who told us that the company believes in three key values: “Quality is at the forefront of everything we do, from the largest door to the tiniest screw, we go above and beyond to deliver unrivalled quality for every client.

Our people are another vital factor to becoming recognised and accomplished.

We strive to provide a customer experience that exceeds expectations and runs parallel to the quality of our impressive interiors. Because of our people, our headquarters run like a close-knit family business whilst operating on a multi-million-pound scale.

“Last but not least we have our outstanding history, which has seen only four leaders across our 123 years. This alone sets us apart from most, but it’s the way we apply our founder, Edward Elijah’s legacy that truly makes us exceptional.”

She explained that Edward trained his first apprentice, 14-year-old Basil Richardson, who went on to become director of the business, just like his son John. Since then, their in-house training has been at the heart of EE Smith as they continually invest in extensive apprenticeship programmes both on and off site, teaching invaluable, specialist skills.

This dedication to training is demonstrated by their Apprentice Co-Ordinators; Paul and Andy, who inspire and teach the youngsters while also juggling full-time managerial roles.

We then spoke to Paul Kulik (Apprenticeship Co-ordinator) and Andy Carter (Contracts Manager) about the apprenticeship selection process and how they identify the people they want to invest in.

Andy said: “We have a keen eye for those with a willingness to learn and thrive so we look for those who have bags of enthusiasm and who seem excited by our industry.” Paul added that during the selection process, they always keep the company’s future in mind, saying: “I always want to find the next star student who is keen to learn everything the industry has to offer.”

We all know that starting a new job can be daunting, particularly when it’s your first one, so we asked Andy and Paul for their tips to help new entrants settle in. Andy said that he always explains to the new starters that it’s not a sprint in this game, it’s more of a marathon, reminding them that ‘every day is a school day’ and even the veterans of the industry learn new things. He said: “We encourage them to ask plenty of questions as that’s the way they learn.”

Paul takes each new student under his wing to begin with. “I remember very clearly what my first day here at EE Smith felt like when I was an apprentice, so I assure them that the learning process is a slow one. I encourage them to ask lots of questions, follow senior staff closely and take every bit of knowledge in, because it’s priceless.”

Training providers
EE Smith works with a number of colleges that provide apprenticeship training, and they have found that it’s imperative to maintain close relationships with them to ensure the most applicable learning experience is available for the apprentice.

Andy explained that they only partner with the very best training providers and work closely with the colleges; making frequent visits to the campuses to ensure the delivery of the apprenticeship is a collaborative one.

Paul visits the apprentices in college and develops close relationships with their teachers to ensure that he can provide the correct support to meet the students’ needs. He said: “We have regular catch ups and are involved with numerous apprenticeships events (pre-COVID!).”

Both Andy and Paul emphasised that this is a formal arrangement with an employment contract between EE Smith Contracts and the apprentice, and a training delivery contract with the college. Nothing is left to chance.

The time spent with each apprentice varies throughout their training, depending on what skills they are learning at the time. Andy explained that all their apprentices have a dedicated day-to-day on-site mentor and even though the apprentices will be spread over a number of areas; each with their own team leader and/or supervisor, Paul is always on the shop floor giving advice wherever it’s needed. He also puts on a number of in-house training exercises throughout the two year apprenticeship scheme, adapting them each year to suit their learning.

Both Andy and Paul agree that as mentors, they are constantly engaged and the success of each apprentice is reflected in the investment. They give the apprentices a state-of-the-art kit to help them be the very best in their work, and have evolved a set of skills tests for them which they upgrade each year. They also organise annual apprenticeship awards based upon continuous skills assessments.

With management approval, Andy developed and implemented the on-site apprenticeship scheme three years ago. He said: “Our role includes revision of college learning, portfolio building and moving apprentices around tasks and sites in order to ensure they get the necessary experience. “It is constant and all-consuming, but seeing people develop and being part of it is rewarding.

Advice for FIS members
We couldn’t let them go without asking for some hints and tips for FIS members who are considering taking on an apprentice.

Andy said: “My advice would be to go for it. It’s an exciting industry with so many opportunities. The skills we teach can be used anywhere in the world.” Paul said: “Do not hesitate! Starting as an apprentice myself, I think the apprenticeship scheme is great and should be as valued as any well-recognised career path. It works for the company – being able to train an individual to the skill levels required that can be hard to find – as well as opening so many doors and avenues for that person in a very positive and exciting industry.”

Top tips
We thank EE Smith Contract for their contribution to this article. There is clear value for organisations that invest in apprentices but it is a long-term commitment. The main factors to ensure success are:
• devote time, it is a marathon not a sprint;
• focus on and encourage enthusiasm;
• nurture a goodwill relationship with the chosen training provider;
• ensure each apprentice has direct access to a mentor in the workplace; and
• make it formal, create contracts between your organisation, the training provider and the apprentice

FIS is keen for members to invest in succession planning by taking on new entrants who, all being well, will eventually become apprentices and nurture the people that will ensure longevity for your organisation. We have reported on the government incentives and financial support for taking on apprentices, currently available until 31 January 2021.

For more information advice and guidance take a look at the FIS Apprenticeships-Guidance for Employers:

FIS can also help with recruitment and selection of new entrants to the sector, as EE Smith show, it truly is an investment that will futureproof the workforce.