“Share your knowledge to help others”
Experienced construction workers have knowledge that can’t be found in books.
And by becoming teachers, a key aim of the Construction Leadership Council’s new skills plan, older workers can equip new entrants with skills that help their career.
Take Charlie Thorp, 66, a Construction Lecturer, Assessor and Mentor to bricklaying apprentices and Property Maintenance Operatives at South Essex College.
Charlie began his career as a Bricklaying Apprentice and quickly impressed his bosses.
In 1975 he was awarded the London apprentice of the year by the Confederation of Construction Trade Employers.
Charlie, from Chelmsford, enjoyed bricklaying and his role a chargehand-foreman. He worked on grade two buildings renovations. However, a shoulder injury curtailed his construction career.
“If that happened today,” reflects Charlie, “companies would retain you in another position rather than lose you.”
Charlie turned adversity into opportunity by changing careers and becoming a licensed London Taxi driver, completing the knowledge of London aspect of the work exceptionally fast, in just two years and one day.
However, despite his flair for driving – Charlie was an impressive third in the London Taxi of the year competition – he missed construction, so he returned to industry, this time, as a teacher.
During his teaching career Charlie has mentored students through apprenticeships, achieving four winners of regional SkillBuild Competition, the “UK’s construction Olympics.”
“One apprentice I helped came third in the UK young builder of the year award,” says Charlie, “we went to the awards ceremony in the House of Commons.
“There was a two-page write up on my work in the Guild of Master Bricklayer journal.
“Recently I was senior judge at Lewisham college for the London Forterra brick challenge Competition.”
“Training the trainers” is a topical issue. A recent report from the British Association of Construction Heads (BACH) highlighted the difficulty of recruiting more mature tutors.
BACH says knowledge needs to be in place to up-skill the workforce, support modern methods, green skills, and off-site manufacturing.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education’s (DfE) campaign “Taking Teaching Further” aims to attract industry professionals with, like Charlie, years of great practice under their belt.
No industry is perfect, of course, and Charlie says there have been tough times. He says that trying to find construction work during recessions was challenging.
Charlie recalls walking the streets, looking for work, and seeing a hand-painted sign that read “No bricklayers wanted.”
“That hurt,” says Charlie.
He says the most enjoyable aspect of his teaching role has been seeing students’ progress to successful careers.
“I recently discovered that a senior site manager with Lee Marley was an ex-apprentice I supported,” says Charlie. “I also mentored the director’s son of Swift Brickwork through his apprenticeship.”
Charlie says that a lot of his students have had no previous connection to construction but are now well established in industry.
“I had one say: ‘Charlie, I don’t think you realise that you have changed people’s lives.’”
Charlie’s advice to anyone thinking about a construction career is to “dedicate yourself to a trade first, before learning other disciplines, but don’t assume you know everything as you will always learn new things.
“Share your knowledge to help others.”
Train the trainer
CITB is exploring how to use industry experience to the best effect. Our Quality and Standards team have begun work on a standard that will aim to bring consistency to the “Train the Trainer” arena.
And we have recruited experienced workers to train new entrants at our National Construction College, based at Bircham Newton. These roles will see teachers share the skills they learnt over the years with construction newcomers.
“It would be an incredible shame if their savvy was not passed on to the new generation of workers,” wrote CITB Chief Executive, Tim Balcon, in a blog on experience being the best teacher.
“Sharing skills, like this, is an important part of the training landscape.”
Inspired by Charlie? Want to know what a bricklaying career entails? Our Go Construct website has all the information you need on how to become a bricklayer.