Building a new future for the unemployed

Out of work and in danger of losing her benefits, single mum Simone Hitchin from Telford was desperate to find a job she could fit in around school hours. 

Simone Hitchin, Jayden Jones and Leon Tomkinson with trainee supervisor Paul Wootton and construction tutor Richard Tart
Simone Hitchin, Jayden Jones and Leon Tomkinson with trainee supervisor Paul Wootton and construction tutor Richard Tart

Previous employment saw her working in taxi ranks and being a cleaner, so the thought of going into construction was the last thing on her mind. However, the 32-year-old from Wellington says she has now discovered her dream job, helping to build revolutionary low-energy passivhaus homes. 

Simone is being trained through the Marches Construction Ready Partnership, and now works as a trainee house building operative for The Wrekin Housing Group, manufacturing the panels for four Beattie passive houses the Group is building for a site in Arleston, Wellington. “Being a trainee house building operative has helped me gain in confidence and it is good to have a job I can fit in around the school run,” said Simone, who is also a Group tenant. “I feel more positive and have faith in myself again. 

“This new role has also given me more financial freedom and enabled me to do more things with my eight-year-old daughter, Brook. For starters I have also been able to afford to apply for my provisional driving licence and will go on to book driving lessons in the near future. I never thought about going into construction – I knew I liked decorating and gardening, and I did woodwork at school – but I never thought about it as a job. Now I would also like to pass on the skills I have learnt and help train others.” 

The training is being provided thanks to a £650,000 government grant to help address Shropshire’s housing shortage and boost the county’s construction industry. Trainees are taught key skills needed, such as electrical, joinery, brickwork, plumbing and painting. They also receive the training necessary for the first stage construction processes for the Beattie Passive passivehaus busiling system. Passive houses are advanced, low energy, draft-free buildings that feature high performance insulation to effectively eliminate heat loss. Most of the heating in these properties comes from sunlight, electrical appliances and even body heat meaning almost no heating is required. 

Simone works with 38-year-old Leon Tomkinson who was unemployed for seven months and always thought he was too old to re-train. “Prior to this I had done factory assembly work and food manufacture, but really I didn’t want to go back into factory work,” he said. 

“Just like Simone I heard about the Marches Construction Ready Programme through my work coach at Telford Jobcentre Plus. They asked if I had ever thought about working in construction. It wasn’t something I had thought of, but decided I would give it a go and I am very glad I did. 

“It is great to be able to see what you have created – building houses gives you great satisfaction. Also, I’ve met new people and I am financially better off. It would be great to carry on with carpentry and gain further qualifications, as it is something I really enjoy. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with new people of all age groups and backgrounds and I hope to progress further in the trade in the future.” 

Also on the programme is 17-year-old Jayden Jones from Wellington. “I’ve learned so much, from power tool training to working at heights, and I’m hoping I can have a career building these fantastic houses,” said the former Ercall Wood Technology College pupil. “It feels like we are building homes of the future as we are learning the most up-to-date techniques.”

The Partnership is made up of The Wrekin Housing Group, training provider Landau Ltd, , Telford College and Beattie Passive. The Marches LEP have also been involved. The programme aims to introduce around 400 skilled construction workers to the county by training the long-term unemployed, students and people looking to make a career change into the construction industry. 

Caroline Cowper is the construction ready project co-ordinator and said the programme is giving those who are out of work a new lease of life. “The one thing that all our trainees say is that they never thought of going into carpentry or construction – but they are so glad they did,” she said. “The training gives them all the skills they need to build these fantastic homes that have virtually zero heating bills, along with superior air quality. Plus the method of construction is versatile and cost effective, so our trainees really are learning how to build homes for the future.” 

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