The roofing department at Leeds College of Building is now a NFRC centre of excellence as well as being the largest college of its kind in the UK. Chris Messenger, lecturer in roof slating and tiling, takes us through a typical day at the beginning of the teaching year.
“Taking responsibility for predominantly young people involves a lot more than simply showing them how to make a roof weatherproof”, Chris says. He should know, as Chris is one of the tutors, along with his colleague Dave Mallory, have taught Matt Ford, the pitched roofing winner of BMI Apprentice of the Year 2019.
“Our students come from a massive variety of backgrounds and there’s a great difference between them in terms of experience. Some of them have been working in the family business but some of the new starters haven’t even picked up a tape measure before.”
The official start for the day is 9am, when Chris takes the register and checks that everyone is there. It is his first chance to see if anyone might needs support. Students can come from all over the UK – Merseyside, Cheshire, Lincolnshire and Sussex – so some are lodged nearby while others can face long journeys by public transport.
“We get a lot of satisfaction from keeping the students on track and dealing with the challenges that they may present. We are mentors, supporters and teachers rolled up in to one, working together with the employers to develop the students.”
At 09.00 this cohort of apprentices is hard at work, with Chris arriving early, preparing the lessons and checking the course file for each student to see not only what they are doing and how they are progressing but also if they need support in any area.
The timetable centres on the workshops from 09.00 to 16.15 with a 30-minute break at 10.15 and 45 mins for lunch at 12.15. Theory sessions underpin the practical with tutorial on Friday morning before finishing at lunchtime so students can get home, and tutors can catch up on any outstanding paperwork.
Chris started in roofing after leaving school, working for his father, who refurbished property, and then setting up his own business at 22 after “differences of opinion with dad”. As he says “It was far too early” so he tries to pass on what he learnt, so students can avoid the same mistakes.
This is not just the skills of roofing but also how they should treat customers. So, for example, inspecting and assessing means the student must have cleared any debris and tidied away tools.
“If that’s the customer’s garden, they’ll expect to see the garden is clean and undamaged. You’re asking them for a big cheque so the job’s got to be right,” he says.
Throughout the day Chris and Dave walk the floor around the 18 roofing rigs – “A thousand pounds each and refurbished regularly. They show the college’s commitment to developing industry standard skills”. They check workmanship, demonstrating the skills needed, offering encouragement and advice, while also noting small details that will need attention later.
Showcasing an impressive rig with complex valleys and hips, commenting that one apprentice is really working hard and his colleague is relying on his expertise for support.
“That often happens, where one inexperienced student latches onto another with the skills and the work ethic. Now, that’s alright for a while because the more experienced student will share their skills and that’s good. But next time, we partner them with someone else to make sure they can apply what they have learnt themselves.”
Chris joined the department 17 years ago, aged 42, and he hasn’t looked back. To date the department has won a total of 15 SkillBuild/World Skills medals (six gold, two silver, and seven bronze) under the roofing teams coaching – an achievement noted when the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers awarded Chris the first ever ‘Excellence in Teaching’ medal.
Chris himself emphasises that any success is due to the team at LCB – fellow tutor David Mallory, Curriculum Manager Lee Bogg, and Tim Donegan Roofing Technician. He draws a parallel with his own experience: “Having a team behind you so you can enjoy your work and do your best is what works for us here at Leeds College of building,” he concludes.
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