With the supply chain a vital element in the housebuilding industry, we speak to Mat Woodyatt of BMI Group, best known for its leading roofing brands, about its approach to apprenticeships, training and careers.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your role at BMI.
I’m technical training manager at the BMI National Training Centre in South Cerney, Gloucestershire. I’m responsible for designing and delivering our courses – from basic roofing skills to estimating – for our customers. These comprise contractors, merchants, and clients such as local authorities, housing associations and key business partners such as the NHBC.
The centre was set up 35 years ago, with 1,500 people coming through the doors every year. And we’re the only manufacturer to provide the CITB- and NFRC-recognised Basic Competency Programme in both flat and pitched roofing. This allows roofers to convert from a green labourer’s card to a red experienced worker card, on the understanding that they will be working towards a level 2 qualification over the next three years.
What does BMI do and how involved are you with the UK housebuilding industry?
BMI is a relatively newly formed group, and will be most familiar to housebuilders through its leading flat roofing brand Icopal and, in pitched roofing, the iconic Redland name.
A significant proportion of Redland sales are into volume housebuilding, with large-format concrete tiles proving increasingly popular for reasons both of cost and speed – you need fewer per square metre on a roof. Clay still is very strong at the mid- to upper end of the market; with our centuries-old Rosemary products filling that need.
You’re sponsoring some apprenticeship awards: can you tell us about those?
Some time ago we decided to launch a roofing Apprentice of the Year competition. Skills shortages are a pressing issue across construction as a whole; yet perhaps most keenly felt in roofing. These shortages hinder recruitment, and national building capacity – and if not properly addressed, in time the sector will grind to a halt. These awards are part of a group strategy to recognise and reward those coming into the industry; as part of wider initiatives to raise the appeal of roofing and motivate more youngsters and career-changers to get involved
The sector must recruit 700,000 more people to replace those retiring or moving on, plus an extra 120,000 if the government’s aim to build one million new homes by 2020 is to be achieved.
We know that the shortage of roofers is hampering growth in the new build housing market and we’re keen to do what we can to help support new roofing apprentices.
The inaugural competition focused on Redland, yet since joining forces with Icopal we’ve been able to broaden the reach of the awards to encompass both a Redland Apprentice of the Year and, obviously, an Icopal Apprentice of the Year.
What part do apprenticeships play within BMI itself?
Apprenticeships play an important part in our employment mix. We employ apprentices in our manufacturing plants and take them through an internal skills development programme. We also take on paid interns in our commercial teams and have created brand new entry-level development positions in our new combined BMI structure.
Are there essential qualities for young people to have to succeed as an apprentice?
As in any walk of life, the attributes to cut through as an apprentice are broadly similar. It’s about enthusiasm, commitment and a willingness to learn. The construction industry has always been a robust environment to work in and while many of the rough edges have been smoothed – raising safety standards and improving the working conditions for operatives – it does require a degree of resilience.
In roofing, it’s probably even more important as its one of the tougher trade gigs: it’s all pretty heavy work, and working at height to boot. That’s not for everyone – indeed, our survey of building students last year revealed that around 43% of trainees were afraid of falling and injury.
How does the construction industry and its supply chain attract more apprentices – and particularly women and ethnic minorities?
It has to start in the schools with an honest assessment of how the construction industry is portrayed and promoted to students. The CITB and NFRC are involved in important work on our behalf to raise the profile of construction as an attractive and enjoyable environment in which to work. And the industry itself has made great strides towards improving its safety record and its approach to diversity and equality in the workplace.
With recruitment itself is BMI experiencing the skills shortage that many housebuilders are, across the workforce?
Skills shortages are felt across the industry. We can struggle to find people with the right skills, particularly in plant maintenance and field sales roles. But we pride ourselves on training and developing our people, so often we’re looking for attitude, rather than aptitude, when we recruit.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking at a career in construction or within its supply chain?
Show some stickability, be ready for early starts and poor weather and commit to upskilling continuously. At the end, you’ll have a trade for life, the possibility of a more than decent livelihood and own business ownership; and the potential for taking great pride in your work.