As we continue to look at just how important the highly skilled supply chain is to the housebuilding industry, we speak to James Macaree, assistant managing director of maintenance and construction firm Ring Stones – part of the Calico Group – about the dedication the company has to apprenticeships for a range of different skills.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your role at Ring Stones (RS).
My construction journey started as a plasterer many years ago, from here I have climbed the management ladder through to my current role of assistant director. My employment started at Ring Stones in 2013 as a contract manager. At the time of appointment we had a small workforce of 12 persons and very little work planned. The initial years were very tough as we only had a maintenance team and shared the works office with the client which took a little bit of getting used to. Gradually, with the inclusion of key staff, we managed to establish ourselves within the local area and build our reputation not only in maintenance, but new build and regeneration. Today we stand at over 70 staff employed – over 85% locally – with a turnover over £15m last year, which is our best year to date.
What does Ring Stones do and how involved are you with the UK housebuilding industry?
We were originally carrying out planned maintenance works but since then we have evolved to major regeneration works, and also we now have an established new build development team. We offer a wide range of services in regeneration and have completed works such as external refurbishments, heating upgrades, damp-proofing works and recently, we have just completed a number of works for an Empty Homes programme. Our new build works also offer a wide range of variety from traditional housebuilding, timber-frame commercial build, steel-frame commercial build and we are currently undertaking a dementia care facility which shows our broad range of construction skills.
What part do apprenticeships play within Ring Stones?
Apprentices are an integral part of RS, when we were initially established we worked with our in-house partner CtF (Constructing the Future) and undertook the general placements through our works streams of joinery, plastering, bricklaying etc. As we progressed I wasn’t entirely happy with just the traditional trades apprentices and wanted to introduce more ‘back office’ skills and as a result of that I now believe we are unique in offering roles in health and safety, finance and technical roles. These will be the future of RS and I believe investing time in these now will give us a greater stability in the future. We currently hold seven placements for apprentices – 10% of our workforce, which I believe is significant.
Are there essential qualities for young people to have to succeed as an apprentice?
As a honest answer, I don’t particularly believe there are. I think that we can sometimes say that individuals must have certain qualities and that is how we recruit. I believe that if we meet individuals who don’t have these certain qualities then we shouldn’t believe that they can’t succeed. Some of our best success stories have come from back grounds where potentially they may have been dismissed previously. For me it is all about how these young people are managed and guided as that is how we get the best out of these young people.
How does the construction industry and its supply chain attract more apprentices?
I think we are still tackling against the previous recession and the shortfall of these apprentice trades is still evident. It is down to us a construction industry to make the works we all deliver more attractable. This is easier said than done as we are all up against both cost and time restrictions on the majority of projects we undertake. We at RS try to entice people in to the profession by offering something more than just a job. We try to provide them with guidance, not only in work but in life also, and try to work with these young persons as more of a family feel. We recently completed a Board presentation that I took two of our apprentices on and they assisted also. This gave them a real sense of respect and belonging that they are more than just an apprentice and have a real part to play in the future. Whether they stay with us short or long term hopefully they take that belief with them and gradually this extends to others. I do believe that this will take time but as the industry grows I think more persons will want to follow in to construction.
Is the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities to these roles something urgent to tackle?
I think it is yes. We are again quite an ambitious company and would like to think we are far more advanced than others. However, we still fall short: as mentioned above, of those persons I took to the presentation were both female of an ethnic minority. This exposure to both the persons presenting and those in the room will hopefully start discussions outside of meetings and encourage others to move in to the industry. I again see this as a long-term resolution.
Is Ring Stones experiencing the skills shortage that many housebuilders are, across the workforce?
Undoubtedly. The demand for housing at present far outweighs the supply of labour. Geographically, where RS are located we struggle against Manchester construction companies, and in particular commercially, although I don’t necessarily think it’s a skills shortage – more of a boom in building. Unlike previous years, one of our strengths in maintaining/retaining both a direct and subcontractor labour force is how we value them and respect them individually, which again I think is unique in the industry and goes along way and is valued.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking at a career in construction or within its supply chain?
Yes, it’s an exciting, vibrant industry to be involved in. There are many options that people can take and my advice would be don’t be afraid to try something and give it a go. If they feel they don’t like it then put their hand up and try another discipline. Once you have a trade or profession then you have that for life and it’s yours. The skills and knowledge learned can be transferable to almost any other walk of life also, so it’s not lost on any individuals. The industry has changed massively since I started and there is so much more on offer nowadays to all.