‘Greater Awareness of Apprenticeship Benefits Required’ says McCue MD

“THE opportunities within apprenticeship programmes cannot be understated, both for individuals and companies; they play an integral role in helping us to retain the specialist skillset that we have established here in Northern Ireland, and it is vital that we raise awareness of their many benefits to encourage more young people to pursue an apprenticeship as an alternative to a university degree.” That’s the advice from Gary Purdy, managing director of project management company, McCue, this Apprenticeship Week.

Gary Purdy made the comments during a best practice breakfast event that was held at the company’s 5,500 metre squared Carrickfergus facility, in conjunction with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Manufacturing Task Force. The event marked the end of this year’s Apprenticeship Week which ran from 6th to 10th February.

The theme of the exclusive breakfast event on Friday 10th February was ‘Apprenticeships – Providing Skills for Life’, and it was an opportunity for attendees to hear about and see first-hand the importance and benefits of apprenticeships, and discuss the vast opportunities that are available within Manufacturing Task Force companies across the Mid and East Antrim area.

McCue, renowned for its impressive craftsmanship and high-end projects, has been an advocate for apprenticeships for over 20 years, and in partnership with Northern Regional College (NRC), has established a successful apprenticeship model. Evidence of this success is the 25 apprentices, ranging from first to fourth years, that are currently with the company – the most it has had at any one time. This figure makes up 24% of the company’s total workforce.

During the breakfast event, Managing Director, Gary Purdy, who himself started his career as an apprentice with the company, spoke about the importance of apprentices and why the company invests in their development.

Gary said: “It’s an honour to be hosting this apprenticeship best practice breakfast event this morning. At McCue, apprentices are not only a welcomed addition to the company, but they are also integral to our success and longevity; they help us maintain the volume of joiners required as our workflow continues to increase. Some of our most talented joiners joined the company as apprentices and have gone on to work on some of our outstanding and award-winning projects.

“Through our years of partnering with NRC, we have established a successful, educational, and informative model that enables the apprentice to learn from our skilled workforce whilst on the job, but it also ensures that we have the capacity to meet the demand of our customers. Apprentices are also offered excellent career progression opportunities which we believe attributes to the success of our programmes.

Gary added: “There is a massive demand for skilled tradespeople at the moment, especially in joinery, and apprenticeships are a great way to fill that skills gap. Due to the high value we place on apprentices and as a result of the increasing demand, we are in the early stages of planning our own joinery academy, and we hope to continue taking on an average of ten apprentices per year mainly focusing on joinery through a range of levels from first year through to fourth year, in conjunction with NRC.”

Current apprentice with McCue, Jamie McMullan, also spoke during the breakfast about his experience with the company and how he has had the opportunity to develop his specialist skillset and craftsmanship in order to build a successful career.

As part of McCue’s apprenticeship programmes, students undertake on-the-job training with the company’s highly skilled craftsmen in order to develop their bespoke joinery skills, as well as studying part time, which culminates in a recognised qualification. They also get the opportunity to work for a large variety of clients, as well as the chance to travel across the Island of Ireland, GB and Europe to work on some of McCue’s wide-reaching projects.

The company is passionate about retaining its specialist skillset for the future and through the development of apprentices, has the ability to carve and craft a high-calibre team of skilled joiners that will continue to create the distinctive projects that the company is known for.

Speakers at the breakfast event also included Sean McAleese, NRC and Michael Harris, Department for the Economy, both of whom provided an overview of current opportunities and future plans for apprenticeship programmes in the area.

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Alderman Noel Williams, who also was in attendance, highlighted the importance of apprenticeships for both individuals and companies within Mid and East Antrim.

Mayor Williams said: “I was delighted to attend the Best Practice Business Breakfast at McCue this morning and see, at first hand, the fantastic model the company has developed. The high turnout from businesses across the Borough shows the growing demand for skilled apprentices. Moreover, it offered the opportunity to celebrate the many successes of those that have taken part in apprenticeship programmes locally.

“Businesses are recognising the opportunities that are available to them when they expand their workforce with talented apprentices who are eager to ‘learn whilst earning’. In doing so apprentices make a huge positive contribution to the business.

“As a former apprentice myself, albeit in the RAF, I would encourage anyone, male or female, to consider a hands on apprenticeship and get involved in a skill set that will be a real asset to them in their working life.”

Concluding the event, Gary Purdy said: “It’s so important that companies maximise the opportunities for apprentices as it will help to retain the specialist skills that we have within the area. I’m proud to be able to share our model here today and hope that it offers guidance on how we can all utilise this fantastic resource for the benefit of our companies and for the region.”