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All Joined Up

Do you have good practical skills? An enquiring mind? Do you like working as part of a team? A Modern Apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery could give you an opportunity to learn skills for life and be paid while you train.


Alastair Wylie is an award-winning young apprentice. In November 2005, he was presented with the Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council’s James Birnie Award for Craft Excellence, their Apprentice of the Year Award, for his hard work, skills and enthusiasm. Now aged 20, Alastair is just coming to the end of his apprenticeship and will soon qualify as a carpenter and joiner after four years of on-the-job training and college study.

The company that Alastair works for is a building and joinery firm, John Moulds (Kilmarnock) Ltd, and the apprenticeship has given him the opportunity to work on a varied range of carpentry and joinery projects. “I’m working between two jobs at the moment – one of them is for Heritage Scotland, refurbishing old buildings, and the other is for North Ayrshire Council, splitting a factory into three individual factories. We’ve also got two new builds which we’ve nearly finished,” Alastair explains. “I enjoy starting from raw materials and then seeing a project take shape. When you’re putting a house up, you see it go through all the stages until it’s ready for someone to move into it.”

Alastair would thoroughly recommend that other young people with good practical skills consider following in his footsteps and complete a Modern Apprenticeship in carpentry and joinery. “You get training that you’ll have for a lifetime and will be paid at the same time,” he explains. “And once you’ve got a trade, you can work anywhere, in any country in the world. You’re set up for life really.”

A job with prospects
Joinery is just one of a range of construction careers that a young person can train for through a Modern Apprenticeship. According to David Smith, the Chairman of the Scottish Building Apprenticeship & Training Council (SBATC), there are great opportunities in construction careers at the moment as business is booming – but prospects are particularly good for ambitious joiners. “A joiner has to be able to work with all the other trades,” he explains. “For that reason, a lot of site foremen and site managers come from a joinery background.”

If you think that training as a joiner could mean a great future for you, David recommends that your first step should be to complete a ConstructionSkills initial assessment to check that you are suited to the trade (ask your careers advisor for details of where tests are held locally) before approaching employers to ask whether they’d be willing to take you on as an apprentice. Your employer will then be responsible for providing your work-based training and you will be paid a wage for the work you do – starting at around £125 a week plus travel expenses.

Could it be for you?
Alastair Wylie knew he enjoyed working with wood long before he started his apprenticeship – he lives on a farm and does wood turning as a hobby. Not everyone who decides to train as a joiner will have as much experience but if you know you like working with your hands, that’s a very good start. It’s also important to have good coordination, planning and measuring skills. “You need to develop the ability to be able to look at a drawing, and interpret it back out through your hands,” explains David Smith. “You also need to be able to calculate and to plan. A lot of people don’t realise it, but a craftsman does a lot of planning. They’ve got to think about the materials and tools they’re going to need, how they’re going to approach the job and the sequence they’re going to do it in.”

The job of a joiner can involve working inside or out, and you should be prepared to have to travel to different sites – sometimes staying away from home – and to work at heights. You will often work as part of a team and, for that reason, it’s important to be able to take instruction and to have an outgoing and enquiring personality. You may be expected to have Standard Grades in maths, English or technological studies, but according to David Smith, it’s often more important that you have the right skills and personality.

The apprenticeship
A Modern Apprenticeship in joinery lasts four years. During the first year you will spend around 20 weeks studying – usually at a further education college – and the rest of your time with your employer, learning on the job. “It normally starts with time at college so the apprentice can get training in safety and basic skills,” explains David Smith. “But some employers prefer to take them on first and have them in the company for a short period prior to college, just to see that they match their requirements as a person.” You will continue spending time at college during your second year, working towards a Level 3 SVQ. When that is completed, you may be able to return to college to work towards an advanced certificate and then an HNC.

At the end of your apprenticeship, you can either continue working for the same company or look for opportunities elsewhere – carpenters are employed by a variety of different organisations, including construction and shopfitting firms, theatre and television companies, local authorities and boat yards. Later on, you could have the opportunity of moving into construction management or training – or you might even decide to set up your own joinery business. “There’s a ladder of opportunity in the construction industry,” says David Smith. “You can start at any level and your progress is down to you.”

Types of joinery and carpentry
Once you’re qualified, you could work across different types of carpentry and joinery or choose to specialise in particular aspects of the trade.

Bench joinery involves constructing items such as doors, window frames and staircases, usually in a workshop.

Fixing refers to the fitting of wooden structures into a building, from joists and partition walls to skirting boards and shelving.

Formwork is the construction of wooden moulds for concrete structures, such as pillars and motorway bridges.

Shopfitting involves planning, constructing and fitting the interiors of shops, restaurants and other buildings, such as offices.

Find out more
Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council
01324 555 550

(formerly CITB-ConstructionSkills)
0141 810 3044