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Workpath at Ballymore, City Island - 17Aug17

Apprentices build a new future

YOUNG MEN from Tower Hamlets have completed the first stage of a journey towards a career in construction. They have undertaken pre-apprenticeship work placements with construction company Ballymore.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs joined the apprentices on a Docklands bridge to mark the fact they are at a mid-way transition in gaining qualifications and seemed thoroughly delighted at their progress.

The students found their places with the assistance of WorkPath – the Council’s controversial new scheme for assisting residents to find work. The new Scheme follows in a long line of similar ones and has been introduced at the same time as the Council is planning to cut down spending on the Careers Service.

The construction sector has been a major employer in the borough for nearly 40 years and has often got by sourcing its employees from well outside East London, where there has been relatively little training for a sector with such a high demand for labour.

The young pre-apprentices served their apprenticeships with Ballymore, which is responsible for some of the large building projects now dominating Tower Hamlets. As part of gaining planning permission, building and development companies are required to make a positive contribution to local employment – so offering apprenticeships is a good way for companies to discharge some of that responsibility.

One of the local construction projects for which Ballymore is responsible is the City Island Development in Canning Town – which is where the pre-apprentices did their placements. The development has been criticised locally for only offering 104 affordable social rented flats and 15 affordable shared ownership properties. “Affordable” rents are very high, and this small number of properties will not make much dent in Tower Hamlets housing waiting list of over 20,000.

The pre-apprentices learned relevant skills including health and safety, manual handling and core building skills alongside the fundamentals of site and project management. They also learned about interview techniques for apprenticeship and job applications. All had been punctual and professional in their approach and gained crucial contacts and experience.

Tower Hamlets resident Tasharn Williams was one of the lucky lads to meet John Biggs. He said, “It’s been really good. We’ve done five courses for industry-recognised qualifications including manual handling; fire safety; first aid; the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) qualification promoting safe use of powered access equipment; and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS). It’s been really educational, and I hope to do bigger and better things working on site doing what I do best.”

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said: “WorkPath exists to link up the brilliant things happening in the borough with local residents utilising their skills to create opportunity. The eleven young people I’ve met have been a great example of that, and they have had great experiences. I know they will go on to successful careers in the industry and be ambassadors for others to follow.”

The Labour mayor did not comment on whether the pre-apprentices had had any talks about joining a trade union – something which many workers in the industry find offers vital protection.

Steven Tennant, Projects Director at the Ballymore Group, said: “By working with the local community on schemes such as this, we are helping to provide more accessible routes into the workplace, and ultimately bridge the ever-increasing skills gap we are seeing in the UK.” He did not comment on how much profit the Ballymore Group is making out of its various building projects in Tower Hamlets.

Councillor Joshua Peck, Cabinet Member for Work and Economic Growth said: “The application and work ethic shown by these young people sets them up for great possibilities in the construction industry and I wish them  all the best in their aims of securing an apprenticeship. The exciting partnership, brokered via the WorkPath programme with Ballymore – one of the biggest developers in London, shows how the council is bringing opportunity and employment support to our residents”. Cllr Peck, who is thought to be standing down from the Council at the elections next May, did not comment on whether the Council will offer the “first eleven” any help in finding an apprenticeship so that they can gain a full qualification.

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