At the recent BMI Redland and Icopal Apprentice of the Year competition, a surprising number of finalists were former service personnel. Professional Builder met up with three of them to talk about their experiences and how building – roofing in particular – has given them a new lease of life.
One of the consequences of nearly 30 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan is an increased number of service personnel returning to civilian life with wounds, both hidden and visible; or just exhausted from the relentless operational touring.
Traditionally, service personnel might rely on the ‘Armed Forces Covenant’, which the Government describes as “a promise from the nation that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly”.
It’s a respectable aspiration, yet one that does not always deliver in practice. For example, veterans, especially those with mental health problems, form a disproportionate part of the UK’s homeless population.
With the country keen to help its service personnel, the construction industry is also committed to playing its part. With roofing thought to be a particularly good choice for veterans as it’s active, requires a robustness of spirit and body and, on a good day, a high degree of self-reliance and initiative. As a result, the industry is trying to tempt such people into work.
Forces in construction
One example of how the industry is working to attract service personnel was October’s Forces in Construction Insight Day, organised by the CITB, Coleg Cambria, Kier and CTP. Hosted by Coleg Cambria, the event was backed by a wealth of construction companies including BMI, the only manufacturer in attendance; and showcased employment, career and training opportunities.
Evidence of the impact of these initiatives is one BMI Apprentice of the Year finalist, Ceiran Peel-Price: having taken to roofing with gusto. When he joined the army, it was a dream come true as he had always wanted to be part of the forces.
However, after injuring his knees while on active duty, he could no longer serve. Roofing proved his salvation and played to the strengths he developed in his four-year spell as a tank gunner. Ceiran’s injured knee required four operations and it was while recuperating from one operation, and waiting for another, that he got involved in roofing.
He and his wife acquired a 1940s house on the Wirral and brought someone in to bring it up-to modern standards. He started doing the labouring to cut costs and then signed up for a bricklaying course with his local college. At the end of the course he went to work as an apprentice with a local firm, Les Perry Roofing Contractors.
Ceiran’s apprenticeship was very successful and now he has his own business, Peel-Price Construction. “It’s a no-brainer for service people really, there are so many transferrable skills,” he says about the opportunities for veterans.
In Oliver Drew’s case, another BMI Apprentice of the Year finalist, he didn’t leave the army following injury, it was more that they grew apart – especially when he found himself based in London and missing home in County Durham. As a Scots Guard, his five years of service included ceremonial duties, such as guarding Buckingham Palace and Trooping the Colour. Otherwise, his role was being part of a reconnaissance and sniper platoon.
He decided that leaving the army would give him the chance to get a trade and still have time to return to the colours if he wanted. The forces had given him a great attitude: “I’m motivated to do my best, no matter what I am doing in life,” he says.
Careers in roofing
Although he had never thought of roofing as a career, a friend who worked for a roofing company based in Stanley, Hodgson-Sayers; and said that he should apply – so he did. After going through the three-tier selection process he was offered an apprenticeship. “Time-keeping, good presentation, quality workmanship and a good standard of dress are all important,” explains Glyn Neasham, the regulatory affairs manager who manages the Hodgson-Sayers apprenticeship programme.
“I jumped at the chance when I got it and it’s been great. I love working outdoors and I like hard work,” says Oliver. “All the things I’ve learnt are useful, like punctuality and discipline – you need that to make sure you’re safe while working. And, like the army, you’ve got to keep your kit clean.”
While the experiences of the two soldiers and their exits from the army differ; there’s no doubt that they are united in their belief that their time in the services has given them the right attributes for working in the construction industry – roofing in this case – but also that roofing has given them a way back into society, and a chance to re-build their lives and look forward to the future.