Leazes Homes apprentices: plugging the skills gap 

Leazes Homes apprentice - Emma Cook

Leazes Homes apprentice – Emma Cook

As the UK construction industry strives to fill a growing skills gap, Leazes Homes is addressing the issue at a grass roots level – and promoting the importance of women in technical roles into the bargain

Leazes Homes, an affordable housing provider operating in Newcastle, was awarded £2.2m from the HCA to help deliver over 100 new homes between 2015 and 2018. It has demonstrated a commitment to providing apprenticeships since its inception, but is now working even harder to increase opportunities available to young people.

Working with the companies building its developments, Leazes Homes has created 42 new apprenticeships in the last four years as well as helping to support the continuance of 59.

The provision of apprentices is a fundamental part of the process for procuring developers to deliver Leazes Homes’ projects and those working with the organisation offer apprenticeships in a range of construction trades.

Leazes Homes is also reflecting positive moves across the industry to employ increasing numbers of women in more technical and scientific roles, as demonstrated by the appointment of Emma Cook as a trainee technical surveyor.

Emma has had a keen interest in all things building-related since she first followed her granddad, a site manager, around one of his sites clutching a roll of plans. This love of the industry led to her being the only girl on her college engineering course, and her passion and dedication meant she achieved the second highest grades.

After finding her degree in Architectural Engineering focused too much on classroom theory, Emma decided to look for a role that would provide much more hands-on experience – and the apprenticeship with Leazes Homes appealed.

Emma Cook 2

Emma on site at Trevelyan Court

Now Emma is several months into her two year placement and enjoying every second. She said: “There weren’t many opportunities for this kind of role in the North East when I was looking and the practical elements of this apprenticeship really stood out for me. I’d never have been able to get a job like this if it wasn’t an apprenticeship without relevant experience – even if I’d completed my degree employers would have expected me to have more practical skills, so this was a dream come true.

“I’ve already learned so much in the nine months I’ve been here and it stands me in much better stead for the future. I’ve been working with Computer Aided Design and conditional surveys and even my desk-based work has useful practical elements. Now I’m considering going back to university but to study a BSC in Building Surveying, which has been inspired by my time here, and I’d like to continue working part-time if possible so I can keep developing my skills.”

Emma’s post was part-funded by Gentoo, as part of their contract to develop the scheme at Cypress Avenue, Fenham, and she has also worked across a number of Leazes Homes and Your Homes Newcastle projects, including Trevelyan Court, the recently-opened extra care scheme in Newbiggin Hall.

Emma is now a familiar face on building sites across Newcastle and making great impressions wherever she goes. She continued: “I was never encouraged to study subjects that would help me on this sort of career path and was pushed towards much more typically ‘female’ routes by my teachers. The boys on my college course thought they were better than me but I didn’t let that bother me – I let my work speak for itself.

“It’s very different now when I’m out and about on sites and it’s rare for me to hear anything derogatory about being a woman in what used to be considered a man’s world. Sometimes people will joke about whether there are boots available in my size but once they see I’ve brought my own and what I can actually do when I’m wearing them their attitude tends to change.

Leazes Homes apprentice - Emma Cook “My philosophy has always been to listen to myself rather than anyone who is negative about my chosen career anyway. I happen to think that women can bring a lot to this sort of working environment – we’re precise, we’re perfectionists, we have an eye for detail but we can also consider the bigger picture – and we can sometimes seem more approachable which really helps when you’re working in the community.

“That old cliché about being able to multi-task comes in pretty handy too!”

Bill Midgley, Chair of Leazes Homes said: “Leazes Homes is acutely aware of the importance of tackling the skills shortage and apprenticeships are a fantastic way for us to do so. This is a win, win option as it offers vital opportunities for young people while at the same time providing enthusiastic and dynamic employees eager to learn and contribute.

“It is very important to Leazes Homes that our apprenticeships appeal to as broad a spectrum of young people as possible and we’re particularly pleased to see how well Emma is doing and how much she’s enjoying her time with us. It was recently reported that women still only make up around 12% of the overall construction workforce, so we’d encourage many more women to apply for construction roles, especially with us!”