A year in the life of Bewley Homes apprentice, Olivia Canniffe
It’s a year since 18 year old Olivia Canniffe became a trainee technical co-ordinator at developer Bewley Homes. Having made the bold and brave decision to break away from ‘the norm’ and pursue an apprenticeship rather than follow the path to university, Olivia says it was a logical first step for her on the career ladder. Living a two hour commute away meant it wasn’t going to be the easiest of journey’s but, twelve months on and Olivia says she hasn’t looked back.
“My aim was always to do something which would give me an architecture based career” she says. “I am good at maths and I love design – that’s what I find exciting and where I have a natural flair but the pressure of passing exams within the school environment was not one that I responded well to and my grades began to suffer.
“Then one day, quite by chance, I saw a Government advertisement for an apprenticeship scheme at Bewley Homes. If I was selected, it would mean learning the things I loved within a business environment whilst also studying the same qualification I would have got if I continued down the university path. Plus, I’d be earning money at the same time – as far as I was concerned, it was a no brainer, so I applied.”
Now, a year on, Olivia describes more about her role and whether the decision was the right one for her.
“No one day is the same and every single day I learn something new. The best thing is the sense of accomplishment that I feel and that I have made a real contribution to the business.
“I arrive at work every day at 7.30am and get home for 7pm. At first it was difficult to get used to the routine which differed so much from that of my friends; and the school holidays can still be a difficult time. But overall, I feel the advantages and the amount I am learning far outweigh the inconvenience of missing the occasional party.
“My main role is to get drawings in from building suppliers and to match them up with the build designs. The progress of the construction process is entirely dependent on the timescales and accuracy of these – so it’s quite important to make sure it is right. It involves liaising with a wide variety of stakeholders and you really do need good communication, people and organisational skills.
“Earning a salary is an added bonus and helps me be that little bit more independent – I think all these factors have helped me not look back.”
Olivia is such an advocate of her new life that earlier this year she went back to her old school to help raise awareness and promote the virtues of becoming an apprentice. She says: “I don’t think enough is done to communicate all the options available to students, which I think is very sad. Many young people struggle with the highly pressurised school environment where passing exams to get onto a particular university course is the number one priority and I feel they deserve to know that university isn’t the only option. I, of course, still have exams which I need to pass but the difference now is that I am taking them against my own work based knowledge and experience. Having this additional expertise builds an inner confidence and makes the prospect a lot less daunting and stressful. The company you work for sees your exam results, so there is also an added incentive to do well and prove your worth.”
The industry is very male dominated – something which Olivia, as one of only two girls on the extended diploma course she is taking in construction and the build environment, is very aware of. “Realistically, if you do a course in the construction industry, you can’t expect there to be too many other girls but I think there could be more than there currently are. There is such a broad range of jobs within construction, many of which can be undertaken just as well by females as males. I think both the construction industry and educational establishments need to take more responsibility for raising awareness but I also think the company’s offering apprenticeships need to dedicate the time and effort into ensuring the placements are successful.
“That is one of the many things that is great about Bewley Homes.
“There is an open-door policy and everyone – irrespective of their position – is approachable with a genuine willingness to help. Many have set aside their time to explain various elements to increase my understanding of the industry or given me resources to help. This has been further complemented by external stakeholders who have also been happy to go into further detail about their roles.
“Our Managing Director places great emphasis and value on promoting young people and it is an ethos that comes right down through the company – I have always felt very welcome, valued and supported.”
Andrew Brooks, Managing Director of Bewley Homes, adds: “It is imperative that the industry communicates the message about the wide variety of valuable opportunities which are open to tradesmen and women within the construction business – not only site based trades but also, as Olivia’s example shows, other opportunities.
“Olivia has followed her dreams of working within the industry on the technical side with a desire to follow an architectural based career. Within Bewley Homes itself, Olivia and all the other apprentices are viewed as valued members of our team. This attitude, along with the support of the whole team to make a success of any apprentice that joins Bewley Homes, is the foundation upon which apprentices can flourish and look to achieve their goals.”