FIS member, Errigal Contracts has set up their own apprenticeship training academy and are approved to deliver qualifications by City and Guilds. We spoke to Damien Treanor, co-owner and Director, who said that their training academy has become a significant part of everyday life at the office.
Where is the Errigal training academy?
Our 600m² state-of-the-art training facility is at our HQ in Ireland and was designed in consultation with the education authorities. The classroom is connected to our offices and this encourages easy communication between management and apprentices.
Why did you set up the training academy?
Part of the Errigal vision is to grow the business and establish ourselves as a tier one contractor and it was clear to us at an early stage that training young people to a professional level on the tools was probably the most important element to sustain our growth. We believe that those who employ young people should be actively involved in their training and that partitioning, ceiling, and drywall finishers need to be recognised occupations held in the same regard as bricklaying and carpentry.
By delivering training ourselves we ensure that experienced dryliners are teaching our apprentices, and our instructors and tutors have a deep knowledge of the trade and industry. College timetables often do not coincide with organisational, or site needs
and, therefore, we are able to tailor our apprenticeship delivery to match the needs of Errigal and our customers.
Did you get any help with resources or finances?
Working closely with local authorities and technical colleges, we established a traineeship in Republic of Ireland, which funded the tutors and the exams. We persisted with this for two years but a lack of understanding of our industry and its needs made the arrangement unsustainable. During 2016 we established a relationship with the technical colleges in Northern Ireland and, despite valiant efforts from the colleges to deliver the NVQ level 2 Diploma in Interior Systems (they provided facilities and funding for tuition and exams for the off-site element of the course) this too became unsustainable. Colleges found it difficult to retain individuals and the demands of construction work made it unmanageable for them to amalgamate groups; the size of the facility required to provide training for interiors and finishes didn’t justify their investment.
We currently self-fund our programmes. We know that funding is available under the new apprenticeship scheme and we believe our industry should lobby for the majority of funds to be allocated directly to the individual apprentice. We would welcome engagement with the construction industry bodies and government representatives to investigate this.
We have invested heavily in training over the past five years and will continue to allocate 1% of our company turnover (projected turnover 2021 is currently £120m) annually for all training. Our industry moves at such a fast pace so any and all funding needs to be made more readily available, publicised and accessible to support employers who are helping to create both apprenticeship and training opportunities.
How many people does the delivery of Errigal’s training involve and did they require any training and qualifications?
A successful training programme requires acceptance and involvement of everybody in the company and continuous support and encouragement is needed for everyone. We currently have two full-time qualified tutors and two part-time vocational ssessors. Our full-time training manager looks after the pastoral needs of our apprentices and we have a part-time internal quality assurer. Our carefully selected tutors have been with the company for over 10 years and spent time on the tools before progressing to site and project management. For us, there are two key elements to being a successful tutor:
1. Full knowledge of the occupation, the systems, the performance and how a site runs; and
2. An ability to teach young people, engage with them, encourage them and listen to them.
We had to invest in our guys to ensure they had all the qualifications necessary to deliver the training to the standards required, and from a business and industry perspective, this was possibly the most important investment of all.
What occupations are you working to qualify?
It is important to remember that there are so many different areas of expertise within the finishes and interiors sector, and we must allow each apprentice the time and opportunity to find their preferred skill.
The main areas of focus over the first two years are to ensure the apprentices develop their understanding of the performance of the systems, the materials and plant and equipment in the following areas:
• metal stud partitioning;
• plasterboard ceilings;
• suspended ceilings;
• encasements and bulkheads;
• tape and jointing;
• skim finish; and
• spray finish.
How do you identify the people you want to invest in and train?
The Errigal selection process has been developed over years, we originally Errigal Training Academy classroom Apprentices promoted the opportunity of having a qualification in drylining as a ticket allowing individuals to work worldwide and earn a good level of pay with the opportunity of establishing their own business. Now, we promote it as an industry that has great opportunities if you keep your head down, constantly learn, help others and develop your skill. Providing apprentices with a clear
set of rules and standing by these is critical to identifying those who will persevere with the two years of training.
Trades and apprenticeships can still be viewed as ‘taboo’ topics from a careers perspective, and this is primarily due to our industry’s lack of marketing to schools and communities, so it is up to all of us as leaders and the wider construction community to do more. We visit secondary schools and meet with pupils who are at GCSE and A Level stage to explain the opportunities available within our sector and Errigal specifically. We also hold information nights where parents and pupils meet staff and current apprentices and see the opportunities available. We advertise on our social media platforms and we attend recruitment fairs in local council boroughs. So, by the day of the interview the training team have met with applicants a few times.
Interviews involve a practical exercise in the workshop and a sit down chat, we look for energy, enthusiasm and a hunger to learn, successful applicants are given an Errigal contract of employment.
What is your success rate?
Our success rate over the past five years is 49%; 208 started the apprenticeship, 102 completed and 78 are either still in training or working for the company. Around 22% of these apprentices have the capability of becoming supervisors and managers. We guarantee a full-time job to every apprentice who completes the training course and gains the qualification.
Starting a new job can be dauting, particularly when it’s your first, so how do you help new entrants settle in?
There is a statement on the wall of the Errigal Academy that says: ‘you are the most important person in your life’. Getting young people to believe this, understand it and live it is the core value of our first two years developmental training. It is important that young people understand that it’s ok to fail but more important, that they get back up. We include social development and communication skills and we also put them through cognitive ability and critical thinking tests as a part of their development. Respect is very important at Errigal; respect for others, respect for yourself and responsibility for your actions. We encourage a good work ethic and create the understanding that working hard and working smart pays off.
It is extremely important that apprentices are well prepared before they go on site. The time spent in our training academy initially focuses on site conditioning such as site hours, site set up, PPE, clocking in and out, yellow card and red card systems, Health and Safety, phone zones and toolbox talks. Everything that an apprentice will encounter on site is incorporated into life at the academy. When the apprentices go to site, we operate a buddy system where they are teamed up with an experienced fixer who they will learn from every day. Our training is delivered in block placements so the first visit to site is generally for four weeks and each time they go out that period of time is extended – this certainly eases young people into the working environment.
How do you maintain good relationships with main contractors and ensure the most applicable learning experience is available for the apprentice on site?
We make the main contractor aware of our Brendan Duddy, gold medallist at WorldSkills 2019 training regime and what it involves to give them confidence that the Errigal apprentice has been conditioned and prepared for site. A good working environment creates a good first impression for an apprentice, a clean safe working environment with good welfare facilities goes a long way to creating a good working environment. It’s very important for any apprentices under the age of 18 to be made fully aware of the young person’s Risk Assessments and Method Statements they have to sign up to so that they don’t view it in a negative light but rather, a way of preparing them to be able to deal with the site banter that takes place.
How much time do you spend with each apprentice and what do you cover?
On average, we have 10 apprentices per intake. In year one they spend 14 weeks in the academy and 34 weeks on site. In year two they spend six weeks in academy and 42 weeks on site. A typical 40-hour week in academy, is half on tools and skills and half in the classroom teaching the technical elements; IT, reading drawings, understanding products, systems and performance. Every apprentice spends the first three weeks in the academy before going to site. Additional hours include one-to-one conversations and phone calls with the apprentices when they are out on site. Apprentices all keep a daily diary of the work they are completing which is signed off by the site manager each week to ensure they are getting the right mix of work.
We put a lot of effort into coaching our apprentices in social skills, including communication, budget management, cooking, cleaning, respecting others, general good manners and having self-belief. The schedule for the two-year programme is drawn up at the start of each new intake and the apprentices know what to expect and what is expected of them for the duration. We deliver the training diploma in year one and the NVQ in year two. Along with the delivery of the syllabus, we also include visits
to the Gypsum Training Academy, skills days in the academy, and year one and year two inhouse skills tests. We are very active in the participation of the SkillBuild and WorldSkills competitions and have recently had success.
We have a follow-on training programme for all apprentices for a further two years after they qualify where we focus on furthering their knowledge and skills of the trade; setting out, logistics and managing operatives. This provides those who want to progress into a management role get a deeper understanding of what’s involved. It is essential that we invest time and energy in them, so we spend a lot of time every day with our apprentices, they’re our employees and we are training them to be the workforce of the future.
What advice do you have for FIS members who are considering delivering their own training, and what was your best source of information, advice and guidance?
It’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile. It will take time, patience and money. My advice is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel because the hard work is done; the platform is sitting there, the syllabus is there, it is the delivery that is the most important part and I believe that as a sector, we need to ensure that the delivery of any apprenticeship in drylining and interior systems is set out by employers and held to a specific standard.
The best source of information is to speak to those who have done it and learned from it. We are more than happy to share our learning with anyone who is serious about recruiting apprentices for the progression of the finishes and interiors sector. Young
people just starting out need guidance and support, the employing organisation needs commitment, energy, and enthusiasm.
It must be a joint partnership between the employer and the apprentice in order to succeed. Our industry is built on people and relationships and it is our duty as successful leaders to encourage and support the leaders of the future.