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Decorating boot camps help unemployed youths into work

Kevin McLoughlin believes that investing in apprentices and youth training is vital for the survival of UK construction and has put his ideas into practice through hiscompany, K&M McLoughlin Decorating.

Founded 1988

Location Islington, London

Specialism Painting and decorating

Number of employees Approximately 90

Turnover £5m

Painting and decorating firm K&M McLoughlin Decorating works across a wide range of projects in central London, completing jobs on historical buildings, new builds, refurbishment schemes and public buildings.

“If it doesn’t move, we paint it,” says founder and owner Kevin McLoughlin.

The firm has had to diversify in recent years in order to survive, moving into new areas such as grit blasting and taking on projects in places as diverse as Dubai and Bratislava.

“We also achieved Chartered Building Company status from the Chartered Institute of Building this year,” Mr McLoughlin says. “It’s pretty rare for a painting and decorating firm to have this, so it sets us apart.”

Fighting the skills shortage

Another way Mr McLoughlin has ensured his firm stands out is through its commitment to training. He learned his skills through an apprenticeship after leaving school at the age of 15, and believes that companies today are overlooking the need to train young people.

“So many major contractors employ cheap foreign labour with few conditions,” he says. “While most are not necessarily happy about this, they are willing to do it in order to satisfy the bottom line.”

“We are sitting on a powder keg of unskilled labour”

Kevin McLoughlin, K&M McLoughlin Decorating

He believes that employers need to wake up to the fact that the UK is facing a major skills shortage or there will be dire results in the future. “We are sitting on a powder keg of unskilled labour,” he says.

This belief in apprenticeships has led the company to invest heavily in training, culminating in the launch of the first dedicated decorating apprentice training facility in the UK.

Decorating school up and running

Opening in October 2010, K&M Decorating School has proved to be a success, receiving full accreditation from the Construction Awards Alliance in September 2011.

This enabled it to award NVQs in-house, eliminating the need for apprentices to attend an external college one day per week. Islington Council also noticed the school’s success.

“Council leaders approached us to create a new initiative for unemployed youngsters,” he says. “I agreed and designed the programme myself.”

The scheme, dubbed a pre-apprenticeship “boot camp”, takes place in a new, specially fitted-out building provided by the council. Each camp lasts five weeks and comprises a practical course with very little theory.

“They train in real work areas under real working conditions,” Mr McLoughlin says. “While they are by no means fully trained decorators after five weeks, they are heavily managed to ensure they know how to do the simple things right and that they are committed to learning more.”

Tough training leaves only the best

The trainees’ experience is “very harsh”, according to Mr McLoughlin, and is intended to prepare them for the realities of undertaking an apprenticeship.

“This process weeds people out; we end up with those who have a total commitment to learning”

Kevin McLoughlin, K&M McLoughlin Decorating

“They get in at 7:45am each day and have to hand in all their mobile phone and music players before they start,” he says. “Cigarettes are only allowed during scheduled breaks that everyone gets.”

Of those who survive the boot camp and move into paid, full-time apprenticeships, none have dropped out so far.

“This process weeds people out; we end up with those who have a total commitment to learning,” he says. “Our trainees have completely dispelled the myth that today’s youngsters don’t want to work.”

Pathway to work provided

The short course does not claim to produce fully trained painters and decorators; rather, trainees are given very basic training so that, by the end of the course, each student will be able to go on a construction site work-aware and ready to receive further training.

“We’ve partnered with the UK’s three largest paint manufacturers,” Mr McLoughlin says. “They provide access to their contractors, allowing us to lobby them for apprenticeship placements for our trainees. We also hold open days for employers.”

The first group of boot camp trainees gained their completion certificates on 11 March and more than 60 per cent have moved into either a full-time apprenticeship or a 12-week trial prior to a full-time apprenticeship.

“We have to focus on training our young people for the long-term benefit of everyone,” he says.

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