A services industry

A services industry

Professional Builder’s Lee Jones investigates a charitable endeavour that’s arming former military personnel with the skills for a second career in construction.

Members of our armed forces are moulded by their training and active duty and, as a result, are invariably possessed of a mindset that makes them a valuable asset to employers. Discipline, the ability to give and take orders, showing initiative, leadership and working as part of a team are all pre-requisites for a successful service career. Conversely, what the same individuals may well be lacking is the specific skills required to make the transition to earning a living in a civilian occupation – and that’s where the charity, Building Heroes is on hand to help.

The initiative began as the brainchild of Brendan Williams, the son of a master bricklayer, and the brother of a serving member of the armed forces. Whilst visiting a Personal Recovery Unit with his sibling – where wounded, sick and injured personnel were provided with construction training as part of their rehabilitation – Brendan immediately realised just how worthwhile it could be for the same experience to be provided to anyone leaving the military.

“That was back in 2013, and we’ve since expanded to 12 dedicated training centres delivering a nationwide coverage,” explains Phil Ascott, Academy Lead for Swindon & Wiltshire. “We partner with Further Education Colleges and independent training providers to offer an initial five-week City & Guilds Level 1 Diploma in Construction Skills course where attendees can experience a range of different trades before deciding to pursue a particular building discipline.”

Not only that but the charity also provides a comprehensive system of support and mentoring well beyond mere classroom tuition as Phil reveals: “We can help with everything from mental health issues to enhancing employability. It’s important for us that we take an individual approach, and tailor our support programme in each case. There will be some that will have had experience of construction before or during their military careers, for instance, and others who’ve had none, whilst we can also support those looking to move into self-employment through our Building Heroes Property Services team.”

Management material

One popular pathway is into site management, where previous experience of organising large logistical operations can offer those from the military with a head start. Indeed, contractors have themselves recognised that a pool of talent waiting to be tapped exists with Barratt Developments setting up its Armed Forces Transition Programme, for example, whilst Persimmon Group is also actively recruiting ex-military personnel. In addition to its centres, Building Heroes is itself pursuing an Academy model, where it provides construction projects of more than three years duration with trainees. Through partnerships with the likes of Costain and Davidsons Homes they can learn on a live site and are ideally placed to move into employment when their construction course ends. The charity is also working with CITB to deliver its Onsite Experience Hub for Swindon and Wiltshire.

“My career in the services has given me invaluable interpersonal skills, as well as academic qualifications, but I needed to add a practical element to that,” explains Paul Parrott, a learner at the Wiltshire College centre we visited who has previously accrued 24 years’ experience as a military policeman. “That’s where the Building Heroes course is invaluable. MPs will typically be directed towards the security industry but I’ve always really enjoyed DIY so this training gives me the opportunity to see if I can make a living out of property maintenance. You can try out a few trades and then progress from there, but you can already see that the aptitudes you already have, such as forward-planning and a proactive attitude, will be very useful.”

Diverse roles

The range of training offered by Building Heroes is, in fact, as diverse as the industry it is supplying. The charity is partnering with Eurovia South West and Costain Blaydon to deliver groundworks training schemes, whilst there is a construction plant centre in Plymouth. Its Salisbury and Reaseheath centres can provide local accommodation for attendees, with a Level II Engineering qualification on the prospectus of the Harwich centre in Essex. Phil outlines the full scope of the Building Heroes proposition: “It’s not just service leavers we want to support, but also military veterans, reservists and military family who may have been struggling to find a suitable pathway in civilian life. Some may have fallen on hard times and we partner with other agencies to help.”

The construction sector is desperately in need of new recruits and former service personnel are uniquely placed to fill many of them, a fact which makes the Building Heroes programme a virtuous circle of compatibility. Since its inception over 1,700 individuals have benefitted from its training and support and there are plans for further expansion. Bryan Piper, Plastering Tutor at Wiltshire College is passionate about the students under his direction. “A Building Heroes group is always very engaged, eager to learn and willing to try anything,” he enthuses. “They really are a pleasure to work with.”

“Leaving the military can be difficult for many,” concludes Phil, “and Building Heroes exists to smooth that path. It is a fact that the number of unemployed veterans is too high, especially when it is considered that many of the qualities that make good members of the Armed Forces are directly transferable into the working world. We want to make sure that none of that talent is wasted.”

If you’re an employer and you’d like further information on how you can get involved with Building Heroes visit https://www.buildingheroes.org.uk/

Related posts