Jennifer Gibson, who left school not knowing what she wanted to do and worked in a shoe shop before becoming an apprentice with Cruden, tells SCN about the value of apprenticeships and what it’s like being a woman in construction.
When I left school, like so many other teenagers I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I didn’t have the qualifications to get into university, so I ended up working full time in a shoe shop. I didn’t take long to realise that retail was not the career for me, so it was fortunate that I heard from a family friend about an opportunity to become an apprentice painter. Sick of the sight of feet, I jumped at the chance – and it was the best decision I could have made.
My apprenticeship was with Cruden Building & Renewals Ltd, and I soon found that I loved honing my new painting skills while working out on site. Everyone was really welcoming and supportive, and although as a girl I was definitely in the minority, I can honestly say I was never treated any differently because I was female.
During the final year of my four-year apprenticeship, Cruden offered me the chance to go to college to do an HND in Construction Management. This is part of their ‘Pathway to Employment’ programme which is design to nurture and grow talent from within the organisation. They supported me throughout my studies, allowing me two and a half days off work every week to attend, and also by paying for the course. When I gained my HND and Cruden then offered to put me through university, I was delighted. I’ve always been conscious about the environment so I chose to do a degree in Environmental Management.
Although it was a four year course, my HND qualification allowed me to fast track straight into second year. Again, Cruden let me attend my university course at Glasgow Caledonian University for half the week, while working with them for the other half. I was very proud to graduate with a BSc Honours degree last year.
The tremendous support I have been given by Cruden is testament to how much the company believes in developing its employees. The Cruden Academy is a continuous programme of investment in employees which includes their full modern apprenticeship programme, lifelong learning, training and distance support as well as further education support. Around 300 people work here, including joiners, bricklayers, plumbers, painters and labourers. Many have been here for a long time and have moved up the career ladder successfully. There’s no doubt there is a skills shortage throughout the construction industry, and by focusing on recruiting, retaining and investing in their employees, Cruden is very cleverly making sure they have a pipeline of talented and skilled employees who are loyal to them. In recognition of this, Cruden has been awarded Investor in People Silver Standard and Investors in Young People Gold Standard and their modern apprenticeship programme has reached 70 apprentices at the moment, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
I now work in the Integrated Management System department where I am involved with various matters concerning the environment, quality control and health and safety. Although I’m mostly office based, I visit sites to carry out carbon footprint reports, waste reports and recycling reports which I provide to senior management. I look at the volume of emissions that the company produces, including staff commuting to and from work, how much energy and water we use, and how we recycle our waste. I feel very lucky that I’m getting the chance to help the environment and help the company work smarter at the same time.
My hopes for the future are to eventually progress into the role of Environmental Manager.
At school I didn’t consider a career in construction at all, and only got into the industry by good luck. If we want to address the skills shortage, I think it’s important that companies get the message out more widely about the exciting roles that are available in this sector, especially to girls, and at an early age.
I think it’s also vital for young people to realise that if they don’t get into university or college straight from school, it doesn’t mean that they can’t build a successful career. For me, an apprenticeship was the right path and I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve been given these opportunities. There is no way that I would have been able to support myself through college and university on my own. Without my apprenticeship at Cruden, I might still be stuck in that shoe shop!
- Jennifer Gibson, is an Integrated Management System (IMS) Assistant at Cruden Buildings and Renewals Ltd