Apprentice diaries

We follow the progress of six girls as they make their way through a construction apprentice course.

As the students finish their seventh month, one writes about her experiences so far. While two others quit amid concerns about whether construction is really the career for them.


Last week one our clients - Kier - took me on a site visit to the British Gypsum Academy and Training School.

Image caption Katie got an in-depth lesson from one of the construction market leaders

British Gypsum are one of the big plasterboard companies and plasterboard is one of the most important construction materials for drylining. Visiting with me was Stuart Smith - an Astin's site supervisor - and Kevin Loughman. Kevin is a experienced fixer.

After Stuart picked me up from Penrith Station, the day started with a meeting with a talk about all the different types of boards that British Gypsum make, what they are used for, how they can be recycled and how it is possible to minimise waste on site. Recycling is a big thing that we're learning about at Astins.

After the meeting we were shown a demonstration of all different aspects of drylining, including Wall Linings, MF ceilings, Window Openings and Door Opening.

The stuff they taught us on Gyp Lines, Taping and Jointing was really good and will be very useful on site.

Then we went back into the meeting room where we were told about the work of the site person from British Gypsum. He is a kind of troubleshooter who comes onto site and advises on problems and difficulties.

I found out a lot about drylining from the visit and from being with the client. I also got a White Book Certificate, which is a great thing to have. The day ended with us all having our photograph taken together. It was a great day and I enjoyed it a lot.


The last month was a time of change and decision making for Astins' female apprentices.

With projects based closer to home being completed and projects further away from home starting up, the question of whether to continue to purse a career in construction came to prominence.

Regrettably, two of our apprentices decided that they no longer wished to purse a career in the trades aspect of construction and resigned - Becky Skinner and Kirstie Coleman.

Astins spent a significant amount of time and energy working with Becky and Kirstie to determine the outcomes that were in their best interests. In doing this it became clear that their reasons for resigning were quite different and in many ways were based on uncertainties they had at the start of the programme as to whether a career in drylining was what they actually wanted.

Having considered all possibilities they decided to explore other opportunities.

One is leaving to pursue a career in the medical profession while the other is returning to university to commence studies that will lead towards a career in construction management roles. It's important to say that we parted on good terms and have been in touch since to exchange well wishes.

The impact on the programme and the perception of women apprentices remains overwhelmingly positive. The continued success of the remaining women apprentices, who are from very diverse backgrounds and circumstances, will be a significant factor in promoting a career in construction to prospective applicants in the future.

Image caption Becky also left finding the time away from home difficult

We also sought the views of our women apprentices on these recent developments and the reactions were very pragmatic. The most reassuring aspect of all of this was that they felt in no way threatened by these developments and actually saw it as indicative of the organisation's commitment to fair and equitable treatment for all employees irrespective of gender.

Astins has come a long way since those days on June 2009 when the all-female apprentice group started with Astins.

We continue to actively recruit female drylining apprentices (our target of 50% still stands), focussing on those who are hungry for a career in this industry and we are becoming better and identifying and managing expectations while being realistic about the challenges any new entrant will face in developing their career.

In fact, the most recent female recruits have received outstanding reviews from their mentors and supervisors and in subsequent apprentice diaries we will hear directly from them.

Having completed their first theory/practical block at Astins Institute they are now in their first site experience block primarily at sites in and around London.

When asked how they're experiencing site life the response was very positive with one saying: "I'm loving it".

Our challenge going forward is to ensure - month after month - that this young woman, and all our women apprentices, feels exactly the same.

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