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‘Apprentice Mum’ enjoys building foundations for bright futures

A BUILDING firm’s “apprentice Mum” is doing her bit to help the country’s shortage of bricklayers.

Sophia Jelaca is relishing her role in business development and recruitment at Derby-based Hodgkinson Builders.

Speaking during National Apprenticeship Week, which shines a light on the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy, Sophia spoke about how rewarding it is to help nurture the next generation of brickies.

Around 45 per cent of Federation of Master Builder (FMB) members reported difficulty hiring bricklayers, according to the latest FMB State of Trade Survey. 

The continued lack of skilled labour is putting increasing pressure on builders, with 60 percent of members reporting delays in jobs.

There are also fears of an increase in rogue traders, who exploit the situation.

And the Government’s pledge to build 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s seems unlikely, according to Ian Hodgkinson, managing director of Hodgkinson’s, unless a further 50,000 bricklayers are found.

But he and colleague Sophia are playing their part in filling the skills gap, with around 100 apprentices taken on at the firm since it was founded in 1989 – and all gaining employment with the firm.

By the age of 22, a bricklayer could be earning around £1,000 a week.

There are currently eight apprentices at Hodgkinson’s.

 Sophia said: “They have an on-site manager, and a bricklaying mentor, but Ian calls me their Apprentice Mum.

“The apprentices check in with me daily, with photographs of their work and any issues they may have. They also keep a diary which monitors work completed and quantities laid as well as sending their timesheets to me at the end of each week. 

“I’m a point of call where the apprentices can feel supported and in monitoring their progress and having regular reviews, we can see how far they’ve come and focus on helping them with any areas of improvement. 

“We have now also started running an ‘apprentice of the month’ incentive as a bit of fun but also to recognise and celebrate excellence.”

The apprentices are currently working on the construction of the landmark apartment building on the site of the former Debenhams store in Derby’s Victoria Street, which forms part of an extensive £200m regeneration development, as well as going to college one day a week. 

Hodgkinson Builders will soon be training its apprentices in partnership with the National House Building Council (NHBC).

A spokesperson for NHBC said: “‘NHBC is looking forward to welcoming apprentices from Hodgkinson Builders, who will be joining our bricklaying programme at our training hub in Tamworth in March.  

“Apprentices will experience a realistic site environment and a syllabus focused around housebuilding within the standards required to achieve. We are excited to be supporting Hodgkinson Builders in addressing the skills shortage and homebuilders’ needs.”

Sophia added: “The objective of a bricklaying apprenticeship through Hodgkinson Builders is to help these young people become fully qualified and competent bricklayers. 

“Through their employment with us, we aim to nurture their passion for bricklaying and teach them the skills and behaviours they need to turn this into a successful and lifelong career. 

“As part of our mission to inspire and train the next generation of bricklayers, they will be mentored and taught by experienced on-site staff to give them the best environment to learn and thrive in. I feel inspired to be helping the next generation of bricklayers. It’s amazing to see where these apprentices start and where they are going to end up in a few years’ time.”

Lucas Robinson, who has been an apprentice at Hodgkinson Builders since April last year, said: “I am learning a great trade, having a great laugh and meeting some amazing people along the way.”

Ian – who started out as an apprentice – said the country is at least 50,000 bricklayers short nationally, and Covid, people leaving the trade, Brexit and workers from abroad not returning had created a shortage.

“The only way we are ultimately going to solve the skills issues is with apprenticeships,” he said.

He recommends other companies taking on apprentices “as an investment in their business as they would look to any other sort of investment”.

Ian added: “Ultimately, the employer who takes an apprentice on would get a payback.”

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