SAW 2022: Young blood keeps Livingston Building Services Ltd pumping

To help celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2022 we asked SELECT Member firms and their trainees to give us their verdict on electrical apprenticeships and the value they bring to their business. Here, Livingston Building Services Ltd tell us why they appreciate the value of giving young people the chance to shine.

If you don’t have fresh talent coming through the ranks you stand still. And when you stand still you get overtaken by your competitors.

That’s the philosophy embraced by Andy Russell, Operations Director at Livingston Building Services base, as he outlined the firm’s attitude towards apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeships are vital,” he said. “These young people are the future of the business. At Livingston, we have a good reputation for training and development within the industry. We want to maintain that and build on it. And our apprentices are key to success.”

Andy (pictured above, inset) explained how former apprentices had made their mark with the SELECT Member firm: “Several have gone on to new roles including being part of our estimating team,” he said. “Others have taken their building services degree and become project managers. One former apprentice has recently been promoted to contracts manager.”

This is in line with the firm’s strategy to promote from within. There is a ten-year plan with the ultimate aim to have 70 percent of the senior management team having come through the business. “As part of that we need to bring in and develop apprentices and graduates,” said Andy. “At Livingston there are opportunities across the board, especially as we are a subsidiary company to Morris & Spottiswood Ltd.

That is reflected in this year’s goal to take on more apprentices than usual. According to Andy, the company normally recruits between two and four electrical apprentices and two mechanical apprentices every year. However, in 2022, a period of growth means Livingston will take on up to six electrical apprentices.

The process has already started. Andy said: ”In other years I’d wait until May to start getting apprentices in, but I already have one person starting as a pre-apprentice, and we intend advertising and interviewing in March for our 2022 intake. We have also reserved college spaces in advance.

“I want to get ahead of the curve because I know that come May/June, every business will be looking for apprentices. It's clear there's a massive labour shortage across industry for a variety of reasons, including COVID and Brexit.

“Some foreign workers have gone home and businesses have not been bringing through the right number of apprentices."

Even greater reason to bring on more young people and make sure they get the right training. At Livingston that means getting involved in a large variation of projects, from factories to banks, offices, and hospitals. “At the end of the day, it's that type of varied experience that improves their skills in the trade,” said Andy.

Equally important is good support from the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT). “The relationship we have with SECTT is fantastic,” he said. “A lot of our management team have come through the apprenticeship programme and know many of the people at SECTT from being in the industry. They’re great. If there are ever any issues you just need to contact them for advice and support. 

“We work strictly under the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB) agreement which keeps a uniform pay and rule structure across the team.”

Andy works closely with the colleges and SECTT to make sure all is running smoothly with the company’s apprentices. He receives regular reports and training officers are often on site carrying out reviews. Internally, the company conducts its own assessments every three months ensuring the apprentices get the required support and guidance. 

Andy said: “Apprentices really have to knuckle down and focus. I keep close to them to make sure they are getting the correct training and developing in line with their development plan. If they are struggling, we give them support to get things moving in the right direction.

“When all’s said and done, our apprentices carry the future of our business in their hands. Properly managed, the modern apprenticeship allows them to get the vital skills, knowledge and experience they need. That’s why I’d have no hesitation in recommending it.”

This woman’s work
Scottish Apprenticeship Week is not the only celebratory event this month, with March 8 also happening to be International Women’s Day.

Charley Welch (pictured above) is a Stage 3 electrical apprentice and despite being a woman in a traditionally male world, says her gender has never been an issue.

“Everybody in Livingston has been brilliant,” the 22-year-old said. “We have a wide range of people – older, younger, and in between – and they’ve all been really good to me. 

“At times I’m the only female on a site with 30, 40 or 50 people and I just don't notice. You do get the occasional person saying, ‘My God, there's a lassie on site’. But everyone I’ve met has congratulated me on being a spark.”

This was not Charley’s first career choice. Initially she had a place at Edinburgh Napier University to study biomedical science. However, a visit to the University’s open days convinced Charley that student life wasn’t for her. 

Fortunately, her dad used to work for Morris & Spottiswood. He was able to speak to Andy Russell at Livingston, and eventually it was suggested Charley try a pre apprenticeship course at West College Scotland, Clydebank Campus. That proved a success and Charley moved on to a full-time apprenticeship with Livingston in June 2018.

There followed a range of experiences, including fitouts for major developments by Diageo and G4S, the latter of which provided a boost for Charley’s confidence. She said: “The supervisor was Chris Callaghan who is well respected across the Livingston team and I give him so much credit. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and that really helped.”

Charley admitted to some initial doubts about her choice: “The prospect of another three to five years in an educational environment was daunting. But I feel like I’ve just slotted into where I was meant to be. Now, I couldn't see myself doing anything else.”

In the immediate future she’s keen to get more experience, particularly off-site and in the office, and will be completing her first year of an HNC in electrical engineering course at night school in June.
Charley concluded: “I’d recommend the apprenticeship, 100 per cent. Everyone says it’s great to have a trade behind you. That’s so true, and when you work for a good company it’s even better. 

“We need more people in the industry. And it would be fantastic if some of them were women.”