Construction apprentices build their careers from the ground up

Construction apprentices build their careers from the ground up


Luke Courtnell and Charlie Watts are the latest Telford College apprentices to launch careers in the construction industry with civil engineering company McPhillips.

The award-winning business – a former Shropshire Company of the Year – has run an apprenticeship programme since 1995, and has a long and successful partnership with the college.

Luke and Charlie, both from Telford, joined from sixth form and school respectively in 2019. What should have been a two-year programme was interrupted by Covid lockdowns and restrictions, expanding the timescale to three years.

But Luke, 21, thinks this was a blessing in disguise: “During the first six months of our apprenticeship we’d have one week at college and three weeks on site, because of Covid restrictions. We also had a sixth month period of just being on site.

“This worked out better in my opinion because when you were at college for the week you would learn something and have that study time to process the information, whereas if it had been one day a week at college by the next session you may have forgotten what you’d learnt.

“The apprenticeship at McPhillips gives you a solid foundation for a successful career in civil engineering and building. It’s enjoyable – we’ve made some good friends as well as learning many skills which will serve us now and in the future.”

The pair said they had enjoyed working on a variety of job sites throughout the Midlands and could appreciate the progress they had made.

Charlie, 18, said: “Before I started my apprenticeship I kept myself to myself and even when I first joined I would avoid speaking to people at all costs. However, I’ve become one of the lads and enjoy the banter, I’m also not afraid to ask anyone for help. It’s given me the confidence to try anything.

“It’s nice that other team members now come to me for advice, it could be a drainage question or the like. These are people who were there before me, and it proves just how far I’ve come.”

Both apprentices have gained level two NVQs in construction operations along with industry tickets in various other specialist areas.

The apprenticeship has enabled Luke and Charlie to earn a competitive wage, and treat themselves to their dream cars. They can also see a career path at McPhillips for those who want to progress.

Luke said he could see himself perhaps becoming a foreman and then naturally progressing into site management, while Charlie would like to be a machine operator, but is also interested in the work of a quantity surveyor.

McPhillips said apprentices who completed the programme often cited examples where aspects of what they have learnt at work are brought into their everyday life.

Luke said: “Discipline for sure, also perseverance. If ever you run into issues on site it forces you to think of a solution; if I find myself struggling with something outside of work, I get into ‘work mode’ and ask myself ‘how would I go about this if I was at work? It makes my life ten times easier. I feel like I can achieve anything.”

McPhillips managing director Paul Inions said: “The change in Luke and Charlie over the last three years is great to see. They have gone from boys who wouldn’t say boo to a goose into confident young men.

“It’s a proud moment for us particularly when you look at the investment we make not only financially but personally, the team of people here behind the scenes is a bit like the team behind a Formula 1 car, all doing their bit to help our apprentices succeed. We look forward to doing it all again with the next intake.”

Since 1995 well over 100 people have successfully completed the McPhillips apprenticeship programme, and more than 20% of the direct workforce began life with McPhillips as apprentices.

Beckie Bosworth, Telford College’s head of employer engagement, said: “We’re proud to have been working with McPhillips for over 10 years, supporting them with their apprenticeship programme. They are also closely involved in college careers events, supporting our full-time students.”

  • Telford College currently has a wide range of apprenticeship opportunities, For details, click here