South Yorkshire teen building a bright future in construction

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A 17-year-old Barnsley girl is learning the art of construction at a building she helped put up in the Yorkshire town.

Gabriella Williams, who lives in Ardsley, is studying for a level 3 apprenticeship in construction and the built environment at Barnsley College Construction Centre.

She knows the building well having been part of the BAM Construction team that created it, while taking a level 2 business and administration apprenticeship that finished at a similar time to the construction project last summer.

Her performance on that scheme earned Gabriella a place in the BAM team building Sheffield University Technical College 2 – where she is currently working four days a week as part of her level 3 qualification.

She hopes to go on to study at university alongside maintaining site experience, and eventually to become a manager in the construction industry.

With National Apprenticeship Week running from 14 to 18 March, Gabriella is keen to tell other young people of the advantages of vocational learning.

“I got 12 A to C GCSEs and my teachers were pushing me to stay on and take A-levels but I really wanted to get away from the school environment,” says Gabriella.

“When the business and administration apprenticeship came up, I thought I had nothing to lose, and as soon as I walked on to site I felt like I would enjoy it. My dad and uncle worked building houses in Italy and I’ve always been around that environment.

“I worked five days a week on site for BAM at Barnsley College – at the Sixth Form Centre and then the Construction Centre – and studied for an NVQ in my own time. While doing this I decided I would like to be a site manager so I applied for the technical apprenticeship that came up.

“BAM wanted someone with a level 3 qualification, whereas I only had level 2, but the site team I had worked with put in some words for me and I was able to study towards the level 3 one day a week.”

The other four days, Gabriella is on site at Sheffield UTC2 on the Olympic Legacy Park in Don Valley. She is learning a broad range of industry skills both at college and on the live project.

“I shadow the site managers and take care of inductions, paperwork and quality assurance checklists,” she says.

“I am using iPads and cutting edge construction technology such as BIM360, which uses virtual models of buildings to aid the real job.”

Gabriella believes being on site is helping with her college work as well as giving her real life experience.

“I see my friends who are still doing A-levels and often they complain about how hard it is,” she says.

“I struggle with assignments from time to time but I have so many people on site I can ask for advice, they always seem really willing to help. Also I sailed through some modules because I had already learned about it on site.

“For me apprenticeships are definitely a great way to get out of school and into a career.”

BAM’s Chris Jones, director of learning and development added: “For us, when BAM supports an apprenticeship for a young person what we care about is that it makes a difference to them. We don’t do this to churn statistics or tick somebody’s boxes. Each apprenticeship has to be a valuable learning route into a career in construction and help to forge that individual person’s future. We want them to want to stay with us, and become a young construction professional ready for ever greater challenges both in skills and in spirit. That’s what our ambition is. We tailor our support and our programme to creating this sort of meaningful apprenticeship approach based around each individual. Gabriella’s experience is showing exactly how an apprenticeship should work.”