The coronavirus pandemic sent a wrecking ball through the plans of businesses nationwide when lockdown began in March. But as building paused for SEH French Construction, production levels hit new heights as the company prepared for the future by recruiting talent from a generation whose career plans might have been curbed by COVID-19.
SEH French Construction’s sites were temporarily shut in March when lockdown measures were put in place. With workers furloughed, sites closed and plans on hold, construction companies across the country feared for the future of their industry and projects.
But, with an innovative attitude that shines through in their striking builds, Ipswich-based SEH French Construction harnessed this interruption as an opportunity to bolster their workforce with two new apprentices for a rapid recovery when sites re-opened.
After being inspired by his quantity surveyor father, George Page had an interview with SEH French Construction in February for a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship. When lockdown was announced just weeks after, the company kept their eye on George’s talents to recruit him as soon as work on their sites resumed.
“When news of coronavirus began to trickle into the country, we wondered whether we were going to end up in a tricky situation as we knew we’d found a great young man in George”, explained Neil Pryke, contracts manager at SEH French Construction.
“But time didn’t just stand still for us. We kept moving and we were delighted to bring such a young talent on board.”
The pandemic has had a huge impact on businesses across all sectors with many working from home or furloughed and some losing their jobs. March 2020 also signalled the beginning of an uphill struggle between young people and the careers they had spent their teenage years aiming to set in motion.
Another of SEH French Construction’s new apprentices, Sam Piotrowski explains that he had struggled to find a suitable apprenticeship for months before lockdown was enforced. Despite the circumstances, SEH French remained committed to giving Sam the chance he needed.
He said: “I completed my Level 1 and Level 2 bricklaying courses at Suffolk New College and tried to find an apprenticeship straight after I left. I had no luck, worked in supermarkets for a while and then found some short-term labouring work.
“I signed up to TrAC, an apprenticeships scheme, and eventually they led me to SEH French. “Lockdown paused the process, but the company offered me an interview as soon as lockdown was lifted. I owe a lot to SEH French Construction for putting their faith in me at such a difficult time.”
When Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government’s Kickstart apprenticeships scheme in July, it was billed as a golden ticket for young workers. Companies created jobs that, once filled, aided their recovery while young people received the money and training needed to kickstart both their careers and adult lives.
Neil, who began his career as a carpenter, believes that apprenticeships are not just a step on the ladder, but a vital ingredient to the success of the construction industry.
He said: “Apprentices are hugely important for us as a company; they are the future of the company. 99% of the personnel running our sites come from a background as a trainee.
“I stood in the same shoes as George 35 years ago. Paul Rodwell, one of our directors, was a trainee carpenter, too. It’s important to bring in fresh talent but also to nurture that talent and carry on our high standards, as we hope that one day we’ll be sitting talking to George and Sam as site managers.”
In the haze of lockdown, businesses would have been forgiven for coming to a standstill as the country came to terms with its bizarre new reality. But director Simon Girling explains that he and the rest of the SEH French team remained calm in the face of adversity and are now reaping the rewards of their planning.
He added: “Although our sites were closed, we all remained so busy.
“It became a case of maintaining the structure of the company and not losing sight of our priorities, one of which has always been recruiting the most talented young people we can find.
“Now we have two great young people working for us at a time when many people have lost jobs or work. We have strengthened the company during those tough times, and we feel lucky and delighted to have been able to do so.”
Although young people may feel the effects of the pandemic on their careers for many years to come, SEH French Construction are a welcome reminder that their potential is paramount to the country’s route to recovery.