At 26, Matthew Ford has won one of the industry’s top awards, the BMI Apprentice of the Year 2019 in pitched roofing. So now what?
A few months on from winning the title, Matthew is still keeping his head down, weighing up his next move and doing his best with his job, while attending Leeds College of Building.
He works for Incommunities, the Bradford-based social housing provider, as one of eight roofers working in teams of two. His main work is carrying out repairs and approving the work of roofing contractors, which he says can be quite challenging.
“I can’t pass a roof that isn’t as good as I would put on,” he says, taking pains to point out that the roof on which he has been photographed is not his handiwork but one that he has yet to inspect and approve.
Standards mean a lot to Matthew and one thing that he knows for certain is that he wants to improve the image of roofing as a trade and to raise professional standards. He is, for instance, taking part in a trial for RoofCERT, the accreditation scheme devised by the NFRC and CITB, as a result of his award and a conversation with Simon Dixon, Training Manager at the NFRC.
“The idea is it’ll be like Gas Safe and let people know who they can trust, and it’ll eradicate the cowboys who just rock up and offer to do the roof,” he explains.
“RoofCERT will shape the way that roofers extend their skills in a scheme that continuously checks that they’re still complying to the relevant standards and regulations.”
Matthew recognises that he would never have thought of becoming involved with projects such as this before he took part in the competition.
“It boosted my confidence no end. The competition went into areas that just aren’t covered in college and it was never just about simply putting on a roof. We learnt other skills about presentation, relating to the clients, and looking at business plans.
“These are things that I use every day. I have to meet eight to 10 people every day, tell them what repairs are necessary and why and then, if further work is needed, produce a report for my manager to explain why,” he says.
At 26, Matthew realised that he was quite a bit older than the other apprentices entering the Apprentice of the Year competition. In fact, the other students make sure he never forgets by nicknaming him ‘The Fossil’. But Chris Messenger, his tutor at Leeds College of Building, and Jay Webster, last year’s winner, encouraged him to go in for it.
“Jay‘s doing his Level Three at the college and he told us what to expect and how it was a lot to do with business planning, not just putting on roofs. We’re good friends now and talk quite often about the roofing business,” Matthew recalls.
The competition was open to all roofing apprentices who were enrolled with one of BMI’s participating colleges or training groups, with the finalists competing over two days that comprised a series of presentations and assignments. These examined every facet of running your own roofing business – including business planning, technical skills and presentation. In particular, each apprentice had to make their own, five-minute presentation to the judges at the end describing their motivation and future objectives in roofing.
For Matthew, those ‘future objectives’ have yet to be defined because, having completed his Year Two course – six months ahead of schedule – he now wants to complete his Year Three modules and take his education as far as it can carry him.
His employer is also more than keen to assist. It is a matter of policy says Training Manager Tony Thompson. The policy of Incommunities is to train its 1,000 strong workforce so they have all the qualifications they need to reach the highest ranks of the business.
“We celebrate success and this competition helps us do just that. Apprenticeships require hard work and sacrifice – they’re not highly paid – and it’s right to reward that,” he says.
“We know that university isn’t the right route for everybody and apprenticeships can offer an education that can take you right up to management and degree level. This competition raises the profile of apprentices and of roofing so we’re very happy to take part.”
Incommunities is a large employer, with 1,000 staff, and manages 22,000 homes, mainly in Bradford but also in Wakefield, Kirklees, Rotherham and Sheffield. So, the opportunities it can offer persuaded Matthew to change jobs. Up until three years ago he worked with his father Stephen in his roofing business but he wanted qualifications, a steady job so he could get a mortgage and better career prospects.
“I am ambitious and now, after winning the competition, I can see that I could progress into management, though that wouldn’t be roofing as such but would be more like asset management, being a project leader,” he reckons.
“I would also like to look at wider roles in bodies like the NFRC. I think entering the competition means I’ve come out as a ‘well-rounded package’ with all the skills to run a business.”
Matthew also met Ceiran Peel-Price, another former contestant, who now runs his own business, a direction which Matthew is also considering. “The competition definitely gives you the idea that you could set up your own business and Bradford would be ideal. You know that you could make a difference and show how a roof should be laid,” he says.
Whether Matthew decides to go down the managerial route or strike out on his own, it is plain to see that he is determined to make his mark on this industry and that this will not be the last time we hear of him.
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