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The Apprentice angle

I’m going to throw people under the bus, I’m going to throw people over the bus, I’m going to get on the bus, take the wheel and get that investment from Lord Sugar.

It’s National Apprenticeships Week. My emails and Twitter timeline has been full of case studies and features highlighting the number of Apprentices that are starting to come through the sector.

I had a lovely chat with some of the team over at the merchant industry’s biggest employer of apprentices last week – the Travis Perkins group, who have over 1,000 on their books and the results of that will be in our next issue. What that number highlights is that there is such a massive variety of roles across this sector – and that’s before you even get to the supplier side of things.

I’ve banged on about this before, but it riles me that no-one out in the wider world seems really to understand what a builder’s merchant does. Or certainly not the wide variety of roles and opportunities. My son’s year group at school is currently sorting out their Work Experience choices, listing a range of sectors or jobs that they would be interesting in trying out for a few days this Summer. I bet few, if any, of them have plumped for ‘working in a builder’s merchant’. Not even my son (he wants to be a chef).

Why is this? Do people just hear the world Builders and assume, well, that it’s all hard hats and low-slung grubby jeans?  I’d say, based on the number of press releases I receive targeted at tradesmen, probably yes. Do we as an industry not shout about ourselves enough? Probably not.

This industry is chockful of careers of all different shapes, sizes and hues: obviously there’s yard management, but there’s also branch work, sales, management accounting, merchandising, kitchen and bathroom design, purchasing, driving, logistics planning, marketing, IT, branch management….On the supplier side there are similar roles, plus engineering, product development, research, environmental management…

The Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants, the BMF, NMBS have all been doing sterling work raising the profile with their various programmes. We need to keep doing so. Bringing younger people in training them properly and encouraging them to stay and develop their careers is the only way that this industry is going to survive long term.

Youngsters, their teachers, their career advisors and, yes, their parents, all need to understand that builders merchanting – and the wider construction industry, isn’t just about putting bricks on top of one another and drinking tea with 42 sugars. Without buildings we have nowhere to be born, live, love, work and die, without builders (and, I suppose architects) we have no buildings, without builder’s merchants and suppliers, we have nothing for those builders to build with. It’s not all about yard-work in a hi-vis and a broom in your hand.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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