The SWG Academy and what it’s like to train the construction force of the future
23 Mar 2021

As we approach the celebration of one year since the launch of our SWG Academy partnering Llanfyllin High School, we wanted to give you an insight into the flagship project.

It began with a visit to the school, talking to pupils about the Academy’s goals, the opportunities that exist within the industry and the new GCSE option available to them in Construction and the Built Environment.

The subject sees pupils involved in classroom-based activities, practical assessments and site-based activities delivered in partnership between SWG and the school.

Many of our experienced and eager staff have delivered lessons and for some it was really out of their comfort zone, but we are thrilled to say they have all thrived and enjoyed the experience - almost as much as the students!

An insight into the SWG Academy

We caught up with SWG Group Site Manager Keith Rimmer (a former teacher himself!), Steve Meredith, Mechanical Supervisor for SWG M&E, and Director Jason Morrissey to talk about their work with the Academy.

Children taking part in an SWG Academy workshop

What is it like to train the construction task force of the future?

Keith: “Engaging the students is key from the start, identifying levels of interest is a skill and using those within the group is key to breaking the ice and getting hands-on activity from all concerned. It’s always a challenge, but if you communicate well it all goes fine.”

Steve: “It’s been really good and interesting finding out just how keen the students are, they’ve been great and showed a lot of interest. I put several things in place to give them a practical lesson - we covered a wide variety of jobs that plumbers are expected to do. The feedback was impressive and some of the kids really surprised me, answering some questions I didn’t think they would know anything about. They are well worth the effort!”

Jason: “It’s a great opportunity to be able to share some of the experiences that I’ve encountered and pass on some of the learning to the students in the academy. I can just about remember what it was like to be standing there, daunted by the prospect of choosing a career path, and I was lucky enough to make the right choice by getting an apprenticeship. 

“In a time where the focus of so many school leavers is on IT-related disciplines, it is refreshing to see students showing an interest in construction work. It’s heart-warming really and seeing their interest only furthers my will to get involved.”

How does the Academy differ from your day job?

Keith: “Site management is about preparation and planning along with handling and identifying ways of getting the best out of each individual. It’s the same when training young people, each individual has unique strengths, and it is about finding out what method and peth is best for them. There is a career for every level of ability in the construction industry.”

Steve: “It’s harder teaching the kids than actually doing the job, but it’s very satisfying.”

Jason: “It’s different in some ways but shares many similarities – in my day job I provide support and feedback to field engineers and provide technical support as and when required. It would be fair to say that my engineers do understand instructions first time every time, which is a great help.”

Children in the classroom at Llanfyllin High School

What does it mean to engage with the students?

Keith: “Some students have helped out their parents in the construction industry in holiday time or have farming backgrounds and these individuals are not slow coming forward to have a go, which helps the others in the class who haven’t had any experience. Everyone has been very polite and they work well in small teams. It is good to see their projects come to fruition.

Steve: “Hopefully, we are showing what plumbing is all about and that some of the youngsters will want to pursue it as a career. The Academy is a great way of giving students an insight into the profession and hopefully answers many of the questions they may have - it’s about trying to get the right person who wants to get their hands dirty, has something about them and is willing to learn.”

Jason: “It’s definitely satisfying. I’ve always been a firm believer that students who undertake an apprenticeship will be set for a life in construction work and if we can help them onto this career path, then all the better. Seeing the effort that we put into mentoring students turn into competencies is rewarding.”

How important is the Academy to SWG and those taking part? 

Keith: “This work is vital and works both ways. As a firm, SWG has recognised that promoting training prior to heading off to college creates a trigger for the young participants and generates their interest to perhaps become involved in an industry where a skills shortage exists.”

Steve: “The Academy is a very important process for SWG in hopefully producing a future workforce. It gives kids an understanding of what the job entails with some hands-on experience, it’s a great idea and I’m surprised more schools and construction firms aren’t doing it.” 

Jason: “It’s very important for SWG to develop the Academy system in a time where there is a shortage of skills. Very much like a Premier League football club having a homegrown player, there is real satisfaction knowing that you have invested in people who are aware of the company ethos and our ways of working from day one.”

Children at a plumbing workshop at SWG Academy

Keith’s former teaching role was teaching students in the construction department at NPTC Group of Colleges, Newtown campus.

Becoming part of the SWG Academy now and drawing on his past experiences, he can see a direct correlation between those in a school environment and those just out of school who have chosen to become involved in construction.

He adds: “It comes down to how the individual has done in the school system and how they have taken on board the basics in the school environment, maths, English, writing, reading, also discipline and attendance.

“Some are more confident than others, others need more support and encouragement, and some have natural practical skills and would rather be doing that than desk-based activities.

“In the construction industry in the UK, skill levels can vary greatly. Teaching construction skills to older school pupils has been a breath of fresh air during my engagement.”