Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, a 28-year-old Cornish bricklayer has reflected on how an apprenticeship in the construction industry has changed his life.

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) starts tomorrow (6th Feb) and is an opportunity for the education and skills sector to celebrate the achievements of apprentices around the country and the positive impact they make to communities, businesses, and the wider economy.

John Richards, who works for Persimmon Homes in Cornwall, had endured numerous battles with his mental health, often turning to alcohol during difficult periods in his life. His challenges started after leaving college, where he struggled to find a job and career he valued. After struggling to achieve his foundation degree, John turned to agency work to pay the bills.

He later found permanent employment, but the role didn’t live up to his expectations with his mental health taking a turn for the worse. After seeking help, John was diagnosed with severe depression, and signed off work for several months.

Reflecting on the challenges he faced, John said:

“I loved my time at school and college, but I really struggled as I sought to enter the world of work.

“I suffered horribly with depression and sought solace in alcohol, which sadly saw me descend into a downward spiral.

“Looking back, it was driven by a deep unhappiness about my work, and after previous efforts and relapses, I finally found support from a talking therapy group.

“This was a real game-changer and changed my complete outlook on life, and importantly provided me with a greater understanding of mental health and my own personal wellbeing.”

Persimmon’s John Richards on site

After overcoming this battle, John was determined to find a career that fulfilled his ambitious. Step one on this journey saw him visit Cornwall College where he met with a career advisor.

During this meeting they discussed the wide array of options available, and were steadfast in their belief a classroom-based course would not be the most appropriate path given John’s previous experiences. It was at this stage the opportunity of an apprenticeship was raised.

Commenting on this prospect, John said:

“When an apprenticeship was first mooted, I have to say I was somewhat bemused, as I’d always thought apprenticeships were for school leavers!

“It turns out that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was directed to the National Apprenticeship Service where I found there were numerous options available.

“I’d always enjoyed practical learning, and I have to say the opportunity to do a trade-based apprenticeship really appealed.

“At that point, I researched bricklaying and then landed at Persimmon Homes in Cornwall.”

Persimmon Homes is firmly committed to the training and development of new entrants to the housebuilding industry. The apprenticeships offer the chance to gain valuable, job specific training, alongside, job security and great career prospects.

Image by ImageParty from Pixabay

John has been with Persimmon for three years and recently completed his Level 2 bricklaying apprenticeship with Cornwall College. He is now employed by the Cornwall and West Devon region as an improver bricklayer and continues to develop his skills and knowledge in the workplace with the support of mentors on site.

Commenting on John’s journey, Persimmon’s regional apprenticeship manager, Andy Wallis said:

“Apprenticeships have the power to deliver life-changing career opportunities – as evidenced by John’s own story.

“John has had some good and challenging times throughout his apprenticeship, and there were several delays due to COVID, but his perseverance has paid off.

“He enjoys coming to work every day and says he has a ‘fire in his belly’ when tackling jobs on site.

“He’s been a fantastic addition to the business, and is a great role model for those who might have experienced similar challenges during their life.” 

With his apprenticeship qualification secured, John now sees a bright future ahead of him, and is looking forward to continuing to develop his career at Persimmon.

John added:

“There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and through the right help and support you can achieve anything that you put your mind too.

“Working in construction has been life-changing for me and I would encourage anyone to explore the careers that are available.

“The industry has so much to offer and there are significant opportunities in all trades as I’ve witnessed first-hand at Persimmon.

“Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and start the conversation.”