SELECT Member David reveals the value of apprentices
After more than 30 years running David White Electrical (DRW Ltd), David White has learnt the huge value that apprentices can bring to a business.
They’ve helped his firm grow and develop, brought enthusiasm and fresh talent, and allowed David’s son to follow in his footsteps by completing his own apprenticeship.
As the industry looks ahead to the post-COVID-19 recovery and beyond, it’s never been more important to ensure there’s a new generation of skilled and qualified electricians.
“The industry needs good apprentices and companies need them to continue to grow and deliver high quality work” said David. “There’s 15 of us in my business and we’re like one big working family – apprentices are an integral part of the business in the past and now looking to the future.
“We’ve always had apprentices, I like to see them grow in confidence and experience and become confident high-quality electricians. At the moment we have two who go back to college in March and another due to start in September. I’ve also been in touch with the local college about accessing another couple for the future.”
David set up his business in Gretna in 1989 and has always had apprentices in the firm. He believes more young people should be introduced to apprenticeships in school to help them understand the long-term life opportunities they achieve in a work-based environment.
He said: “Universities get a lot of publicity but apprenticeships are just as important. Employers want to know that the people they employ can communicate, as well as understand what they are doing, and completing a vocational qualification allows you to see them first hand. Our apprentices learn so much more by working and doing.
“Apprenticeships can teach you so much more than just a trade. You have to learn how to communicate well with so many different types of people and I’ve seen how my apprentices mature throughout their apprenticeship becoming confident, friendly, articulate, professional electricians. They soon become a valuable part of the team they work in.
“I always ensure there is a mentor attached to support and teach each apprentice. Mentors are qualified and more experienced and someone who they can ask for advice. My mentors keep them on track and focused on the job at hand to ensure they do it correctly and show them a solid strong work ethic.”
It’s not only the apprentices who get the benefit of this support, guidance and in the end qualification and trade, but also the companies where they work. David’s own business has been able to expand over the years because of his commitment to taking on trainees.
And he’s proud of the successful careers his former apprentices have forged, either by staying with DRW or setting up on their own, and the fact that they are still friends.
“Obviously there’s a cost to the business but it’s worth it because of the additional help the apprentices bring,” said David. “The long-term benefits of developing home grown talent is important to continuity and ongoing success. They allow the business stay competitive and personally I also like seeing people do well so it’s great to see the apprentices succeed.
“One of my previous apprentices is in Birmingham, doing exceptionally well with his own business, another is in Inverness working on windfarm contracts. Another two have set up in our local area and are also very successful. I don’t see them as a threat as we all offer different services and I’ve got a lot respect for them all. I fully support my whole team, past and present. We speak all the time and we’ll help each other out whenever we need to.”
David has seen first-hand the opportunities that an apprenticeship can open up. Before setting up his own business, he spent a year working in Australia using the skills he’d gained during his apprenticeship.
He said: “Once you’ve got your trade it’s set in stone and you’ll always find work if you want it. I travelled to Australia and because I had a trade it meant I could network straight away which was important. A trade gives you so many opportunities in life to go wherever you want.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges for all businesses, including David’s. At the start of the first lockdown he was kept busy with emergency callouts and also worked for a company producing PPE for the UK and Scottish Governments, installing machinery at sites on both sides of the border.
The firm’s workload has remained high and like all businesses, it’s had to change how it operates to follow the latest health and safety guidelines. David made sure the apprentices’ views were taken on board when the new processes were developed.
He said: “Through and coming out of lockdown, we were very careful about how we travelled, so we reviewed our business vehicles policy, and also how we accessed the various sites while ensuring that the appropriate PPE was in place.
“The team understood their own responsibilities and that included our apprentices, who they took it all in their stride. The team worked in bubbles and the same apprentice would always be with the same electrical engineer.”
Looking to the future, David plans to keep investing in apprenticeships and encourages other firms to do the same.
He said: “SECTT will provide you with support and help with funding for things like paperwork and books – it’s really helpful. They work hard to keep the industry going and the colleges are a great help and support as well.
“I’d advise anyone who is thinking about taking an apprentice to go for it. It’s a really good way to keep your business competitive and it’s great to watch them grow and succeed.”
THE APPRENTICE’S VIEW
Macauley Hawthorne is a 20-year-old first year apprentice who currently splits his time between working for DRW and attending Dumfries College
“I’m half way through the first year of my apprenticeship and I’m really enjoying it so far – there’s plenty of work to do. Lockdown meant I only got four weeks of college last year so I can’t wait to get back there and get going again.
“I spent a year working with the business first before I started my apprenticeship, which really helped prepare me and let me see what the job was like. It made it much more enjoyable. I’d been at college doing an electrical course before but coming on to the job was a really different experience. My favourite part of the job is going to new builds, I really love working on them. You’re always doing something different as well.
“I couldn’t ask for a better boss than David, he’s brilliant with all of us. As it’s a smaller company it’s much more personal – you’re not just a number and you feel like you’re really learning. The communication is great and you’re always just a phone call away from someone. My SECTT training officer has been brilliant too, he’s really easy to communicate with.
“Looking at the future, I want to finish my apprenticeship and get qualified and one day I’d love to have my own business. I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone else who’s considering one. I thought it would be good but it’s been so much better than I expected. It’s so useful to have a trade behind you, especially at the moment – it’s something you’ll always have to fall back on.”
THE ELECTRICIAN’S VIEW
Andrew Jancey started with DRW in 2006 when he was 17 and stayed with them after finishing his apprenticeship in 2010.
“I thought about going to university but I decided to go for an apprenticeship instead. I’d done some work experience so I knew a little of what to expect. I loved the fact that I was earning money while I was learning a trade. You gain confidence and learn so much as you go along, and not just the electrical side of it. You don’t think about it at the time, but you learn how to interact with customers and get a whole new skillset that you probably wouldn’t get at university.
“I worked with a good set of tradesmen with a range of background when I was an apprentice which helped me get a wide variety of skills. It’s a challenge to put what you’ve learned at college into practice but you’re surrounded by people who can help you and teach you on site.
“When I qualified as an electrician there was plenty of work here so David offered me the chance to stay on. I like the different work we do here, we do a lot of varied jobs. Now I’m the person working with an apprentice and you see it from the other side. When you’re teaching someone else, you remember what it was like to be in their situation and you know what they’re going through because of your own experience.
“The industry is changing all the time and the technology you’re using is constantly improving. You get a skillset you can travel anywhere with and there’s a lot of space for progression. Choosing an apprenticeship opens up so many doors.”