Former apprentice returns to Warwickshire college to bolster his workforce

Jun 9, 2023 | Apprenticeships, Ladder News, News

A former joinery student who started his own business has taken on an apprentice from the same college group that helped hone his skills a decade ago.

Alex Smith studied joinery at Rugby College, part of WCG, up to level three as an apprentice after leaving Ashlawn School in 2013.

Rugby-based construction company Stepnell were his employers for seven years, including during the period when he earned his qualifications, before Alex accepted a role in New Zealand and was set to start a new life with his partner.

However, the global pandemic derailed those plans and Alex instead decided to go it alone and formed his own business; AJS Carpentry and Joinery.

It was when Alex was approaching three years in business when he began talking to fellow Rugby resident Hayden Howlett, who was craving a career change after six years spent as a firearms dealer.

Since December 2022, Hayden has juggled a new job with AJS Carpentry and Joinery alongside his day release studies at WCG’s Moreton Morrell College.

“Through Covid I needed a hand with a big job and I asked Hayden if he could help” Alex, 26, recalled.

“Ever since then he’s picked up the tools and wanted to progress, so we put him through college and took him on as an employee.

“For both of us the role WCG has played has been key. It’s more than just a paperwork exercise, although you can’t do this job without the piece of paperwork to say you can.

“But it teaches you a lot of key skills that are extremely useful, especially people skills which is quite important, which I do not think people realise. Being able to communicate on a building site is key.”

For 28-year-old Hayden, making the big step into a new career and also into the classroom has been daunting but it is a decision he is certainly not regretting.

“I’d been a fire arms dealer for a very long time and I just got a bit burnt out I think,” the Rugby resident said. “During the global pandemic I was having a chat with Alex and I thought I’d do it and change careers.

“Alex was kind enough to take me on and I think we make a good team.

“I decided to go all-in and dedicate myself to this which meant going to college too.

“It’s been different, but also good going back to college as a mature student. I’m more switched on than I would’ve been if I was younger. I am there to learn. It’s a challenge that I am really enjoying.

“You’re never too old to learn. I’d advise anyone who wants to retrain in a different profession to just go for it.

“Carpentry and joinery are great skills to have not only as a profession, but also in life when it comes to buying your own home. There are loads of benefits.”

During his time with WCG, Alex won an outstanding achievement award internally as well as a prestigious external accolade, when he was named the Craft Foundation’s Apprentice of the Year in 2016.

While the best part of a decade separates the two apprenticeships that were undertaken at different WCG sites, both have worked with current head of work based learning for construction, and former Rugby College carpentry and joinery lecturer, John Billings.

He said: “It is no surprise to me that Alex has gone on to set up a successful business. He was always at the top of the class in what was a very strong group during his time with us. Alex had excellent people skills too which I am sure stands him in good stead for speaking with customers now he runs his own business.

“It is great that he has taken on an apprentice, and they are learning with us at WCG too. As a slightly older apprentice, Hayden is keen to learn and get on and he is progressing well. He also chose Moreton Morrell College because of our strong reputation for carpentry and joinery.”

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