Over 80 construction trades students and apprentices from across the three campuses of London South East Colleges descended on its Bromley Campus on Friday 6 October to pick the brains of some the UK construction industry’s biggest names.

On the panel were Charlie Mullins OBE - the charismatic CEO of London’s Pimlico Plumbers, Danny Lucas - Managing Director of fit-out and finishing contractors Lucas, Andrew Stevens - CEO of technical and digital education providers CNet Training, Stuart Wallis - Director of recruitment specialists 1st Step Solutions Ltd, Shenaaz Chenia -  Director of construction giants Saint Gobain and Christina Smith - Manager at house builders Keepmoat Construction.

Following an early morning brickwork competition (sponsored by Forterra PLC and organised by the Brickwork Development Association) in the College’s Technology Centre, where Bromley students took on a team from Brooklands College, the students and guests made their way indoors for more comfortable surroundings in our lecture theatre, and settled down for the day’s main event.

Andrew Stevens chaired the Q&A session and gave students a brief introduction to the main themes the panel would discuss. After welcoming our guests, he told the audience: “Careers in construction and the built environment are for those who have the ambition to become tomorrow’s top professionals; those that have vision, commitment, and flair. Jobs in the industry do not come easy and you will have to compete hard to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder.

Construction is becoming a multifaceted industry and employers only want to take on ‘good people’. They want the best possible candidates and they are willing to train them to become experts in their field. That’s how it works.”

The first question given to the panel was: ‘What advice would you give young people when applying for their first job?’ 

The general consensus was that students should, first of all, make the best of the great opportunity they have in the College to gain their levels 1 and 2 qualifications in whichever trade they had chosen to study. When looking for that first opportunity, research the company you have applied for and be sure to understand the duties and responsibilities for the job on offer. Look carefully at what skills are required and go to work on producing a CV that focuses on what that particular employer is looking for.  If you need help, seek advice from your tutors or other specialists in the College.

When applying for jobs, it is important to think of yourself as a brand. Look at what skills shortages there are in the UK construction industry and identify where the majority of opportunities might be. Be prepared to travel or even move to another part of the country if you need to.

The next question was: 'What qualities are typically sought by employers?

The panel agreed that the main quality required was a good attitude to work as well as a willingness to make changes. Employers want to see someone with an inquisitive mind; someone who asks questions and learns quickly. They are not looking for someone who thinks they know everything already.

Honesty, loyalty, and integrity are another set of qualities that are very attractive; as are the abilities to sell and promote yourself and show enthusiasm. Show your prospective boss that you are aware of the bigger picture and that you are 'on-the-ball'. Tell them what you want to achieve in life and what you hope to become in your chosen industry. Above all, show your enthusiasm.

A very important third question addressed young people’s digital and online footprint: 'How important is it to ensure you have a good online reputation when looking for work?'

The employers stressed the need to be very careful when using social media and email. Some employers and recruitment agencies now Google your name to find out more about you. They will look for you on LinkedIn and, if you are visible, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Though you are entitled to a private life and to have fun, your social media profiles, pictures and posts can say a lot about you. It is up to you to make sure there isn’t anything negative, distorted or misleading about you that could destroy your reputation.

Always give an employer a sensible and business-like email address for them to respond to. If you are still using a ‘silly’ one from your youth, change it now.

Charlie Mullins OBE told the students: “Although looking for your first job might seem a bit daunting to begin with, you have to remember that everyone starts somewhere. You are all at the starting post and you will have chances and breaks as well as a few misfortunes along the way. Personally, I think apprenticeships are brilliant for preparing you for the workplace. When I first started recruiting at Pimlico Plumbers, I would be looking primarily for people who had some experience of turning up for work, being punctual and reliable. Apprenticeships give you all of this and provide you with a qualification too.”

The Q&A session came to an end with the panel members offering just one word each to sum up what they thought was most important to a successful career. They were: Consistency, Opportunity, Passion, Enthusiasm, and Pride.

Motor Vehicle student Scott attended the session and found it very useful. He said: “I have an interview for an apprenticeship coming up pretty soon and the panelists have given me some great ideas today. It was very interesting and they have made some brilliant points.”

If you think you have what it takes to become a construction or building trade professional and would like to build a successful career in the construction and built environment industries, we’d like to hear from you. We have a great range of courses to get you started. Come along to one of our open events in November. Click here to learn more.

Related news: Employers tell students - practice makes perfect 

Related news: Construction trades students given insight at industry talk 


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