From education to employment

Teenager lays foundations for a future career after being named Apprentice of the Year by Bellway

Sophie Curtis

Sophie Curtis continues to build a solid career in construction after being announced as housebuilder Bellway’s Apprentice of the Year. She is the overall winner and one of only four apprentices honoured nationally this year.

Sophie, from Jarrow, joined the Newcastle-based company as an apprentice bricklayer in August 2021 and, after a two-year programme, qualified as a Level 2 Bricklayer at the end of last year.

Sophie said: 

“It’s such an honour to be recognised by Bellway in this way. I work hard every day to prove myself, gain new skills and be the best colleague I can be.”

After learning her trade at the Church View development in Callerton, which is being built under Bellway’s Ashberry Homes brand, she is now working at the site full-time and already has ambitions of becoming a site manager.

Previously, Sophie was also named bricklayer apprentice of the year at college while being the only girl on her course. The 19-year-old knew she had chosen the right career after beating 17 men to the title when she was studying at New College, Durham.

Sophie decided to choose a career in bricklaying after trying her hand at different trades on a skills course.

She said:

“I tried bricklaying, joinery and roofing and decided I quite like bricklaying. It’s a very hands-on job – it’s more manual and that suits me.

“I knew I didn’t want to go to college and that doing college and working on the side wouldn’t work for me. I spoke to my parents about trying for an apprenticeship with Bellway. They said Bellway is a massive company and it would be great to go there as there would be more opportunities. I applied, had an interview and started an apprenticeship.

“It is better than college in my opinion. You can be earning right away. When you are on the job you are learning from real-life experience which you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

During her apprenticeship, Sophie worked on site four days a week with one day studying at college.

“On site, I was straight away doing what they call hod carrying, putting out the bricks, not laying straight away,” she said. “Bricklaying looks easy but it is very difficult. When I first started, I did a lot of hod carrying. Then it was laying bricks to the line.

“That’s how you learn in the first few weeks and months. Each day and week I would get more and more bricks laid. It was good to say, ‘I’m building that.’ Once I’d picked up speed and confidence, I was able to do bits by myself. Build a corner or a pillar and they would check my work and eventually, they wouldn’t need to check.”

The teenager said being the only female construction worker on site does not faze her.

“There are a few women on different sites, but on my site, I’m the only woman working directly for Bellway. I get treated the same as any male apprentice.

“I think there’s a stigma about the industry, but they are men and not boys, and many of them have children of their own. They understand that everybody has to start somewhere and they look after me.”

Sophie encouraged any woman thinking about applying for an apprenticeship in the construction business to do it.

“I’d say don’t be scared and just go for it because it’s the best thing you’ll ever do,” she said. “People might ask you all the time about how you got into it, but when I tell people all about what I do, they say ‘Wow well done!’.

“My next step is hopefully to try to train as a trainee assistant site manager. I want to work my way up into management. That’s my next goal and Bellway is supporting me with this.”

Laura Bell, Bellway Group Senior Organisational Development Manager, said: 

“Sophie is an exceptional apprentice. She is hardworking and keen to learn and has proved herself to be worthy of the title of Bellway Apprentice of the Year. Congratulations to her and all those honoured this year.

“At Bellway, we are extremely proud of the fact that five per cent of our workforce is made up of apprentices, trainees, or graduates. We believe very strongly in nurturing our talent and these awards recognise the vital contribution our apprentices make to the business.

“They will be the managers of the future and they are building strong foundations for that by taking part in our apprenticeship and training programmes.”

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