Our profile this week looks at the career path and current role of David Thacker, director of Westframe, which is a manufacturing division of Westleigh Partnership and a group company alongside Midlands housebuilder Westleigh Homes.
Hi David, please tell us a little about yourself and Westframe
I am the director of Westframe, Westleigh’s timberframe division, based in Narborough, Leicester. We produce timber frames for all of Westleigh’s homes. Westleigh builds new homes across the East and West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, including homes for sale, properties for affordable rent and for Shared Ownership on behalf of housing associations and registered providers. Last year, we produced frames for over 1,000 homes and we’re aiming to take that number up to around 3,000 homes by 2020.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
I left school and entered into a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship with a local building firm. After working for a couple of local building firms, my career with Westleigh began 31 years ago. I joined the company at its very inception as a joiner. From there, my progression in the company has mirrored its growth as I was promoted to site manager, senior site manager and then, in 2002, I established Westframe and took up the role of general manager. This autumn, I was promoted to the role of Westframe director.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
Chris Beighton, the chair and co-founder of Westleigh has been a great mentor to me over my 31 years at Westleigh and Westframe. He brings a real sense of balance to the company.
Inspiring projects which I have been involved with include the designing of standard house types for Westleigh. It sounds quite dull on paper, but it has had such a significant impact on the company and our expansion, and I was really proud to be part of this.
From a construction point of view, the most inspiring project I’ve been involved in was the building of an apartment block for over-55s in Loughborough. Built with timber frame technology, it demonstrates that detailed architectural style can be delivered via modern methods of construction. Simplicity at its very best.
What is it about your current role you most enjoy?
I love the research and development aspect of my role. I’m always seeking out ways to improve what we do at Westframe. In the industry as a whole it’s a very exciting time, with modern methods of construction very much at the forefront of everyone’s agenda in the sector. We are looking to double our production, so currently I’m working on additional locations to deliver our bespoke manufacturing systems.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
Immeasurably! When I joined Westleigh, over three decades ago as a start-up, HR did not exist. Today we have a HR director and a three-strong support team. Training and people development is central to our culture and we have an ethos of promoting from within, wherever we can (myself included). This year, we welcomed 17 new apprentices into the business, who are learning a variety of trades. Investing in the future of construction is important to us, and to the industry as a whole. We like to empower our staff to take ownership, helping them to reach their full potential.
With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Westframe and Westleigh?
Career prospects are very good. Westframe is an instrumental part of Westleigh’s operation programme, and as a company we are well positioned to sustain the delivery that is required to accommodate our expanding clientele. There is a great talent pathway in the organisation. We invest in developing and nurturing our staff so we can promote from within.
Do Westframe and Westleigh look for particular personal and skills qualities in applicants?
Skills can be taught, so in respect to Westframe I look for commitment, desire and passion in the people I employ: a ‘spark’ in their personality, whether it be a great work ethic, or someone with an inquisitive nature with a desire to make things work better.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?
Speaking from my own experience, it really is a great industry to work in. Currently, there is a huge demand for skilled tradespeople so I would advise anyone, whatever their age, to consider an apprenticeship, as this industry offers lots of different avenues you can take your career down. To those just embarking on their career, I’d advise them to spend time on site, understand the difficulties they experience from a practical point of view and this understanding will pay dividends in their career as they progress.