Apprenticeships make good business sense, says decorator honoured by Queen

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By David Hennessy

Decorated decorator Kevin McLoughlin (he was awarded an MBE earlier this year for services to training) of K&M McLoughlin Decorating left school without any qualifications but can be said to have made a success of himself in business anyway.

For several years now he has been giving something back to the community and was even pioneering a revival of apprenticeships long before the idea had become politically fashionable once more.

Today, despite politicians paying lip service to the need for apprenticeships and teaching of practical, sought-after workplace skills to young people, there, he says, remains an ‘astounding’ shortage of those skills.

His own analysis is expected to be backed up in a report by consultants KPMG to be published next month. Kevin, who was the key-note speaker at last week’s TLICN networking event, spoke to the Irish World.

“There is a serious skills shortage and the figures are going to be quite astounding.

“There is such a skills shortage and it is going to compound himself with people retiring. Whichever way you look at it, no matter how negative or how positive you want to be, there is a skills shortage. We have still got a lot of unemployed even though it is diminishing. Now people are looking at what we’ve done as a business need.

“The answer to the problem whether they like it or not and major contractors don’t like it, is going to be a massive investment in training or clients have got to get used to waiting a long time for their work to be done.

“Everyone politically, cross-party, knows there is a big problem. Unemployment figures have just come out, they’re down another 154,000 so where are these new people going to come from? Who is going to do this work?

“The pipeline of work in London and the South East, absolutely guaranteed work, there is an order book of £97 billion minimum. That’s stuff that’s been approved in planning and these are only contracts above half a million pound, anything below which is a substantial amount of work, is not included.”

After completing his own apprenticeship, Kevin, whose parents came from Fahan in Donegal and Naas in Kildare, set up his own company 25 years ago.

In 1997, he decided to make a significant investment in the apprenticeship scheme: “I could see that the youngest person working for me was in their late 20s and I just thought if that carries on, we’re going to end up short of people and I always agreed with the system of apprentice training. I went out and got our first apprentice and it went from one a year to two a year and it just carried on like that.

“In recession, we decided to increase it because we see good value in apprentices. We didn’t want to put our prices up and we didn’t want to put our prices down too much so we increased our apprenticeship scheme and it’s been very successful. Our industry is extremely short across all trades and the professional staff as well and it’s beginning to manifest itself onsite. There are serious shortages of good managers, good everything and it really is creating a problem for contracts.”

In 2010, Kevin created the K & M Painting and Decorating College and two years later helped to develop a CSR programme to provide basic training and help young people into employment.

The company now take on fifteen apprentices every five weeks. The company has trained more than 60 so far and helped them into employment. Between 60 and 70 per cent of the company’s staff are apprentice trained, if not by his own company.

“Anyone who survives the course with good punctuality, good attendance and has shown  a good attitude, we will recommend for a job. We had to build a supply chain of people who were looking for apprentices and that’s beginning to gather momentum. People are now coming back for apprentices and we’ve actually got more jobs than we can find apprentices. It’s been quite successful.

“There is no money involved. It’s about opening doors. It’s about giving someone a chance, that’s what it’s about.We’ve got 50 per cent of people into work. That’s not because we’ve got good connections or anything, it’s because they took the opportunity themselves.”

Kevin McLoughlin MBE was the keynote speaker at the TLICN networking event at Park Plaza County Hall on October 23. 

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