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A day in the life of apprentice Denise Smith

23 Nov 11 Apprentices are the lifeblood of the construction industry, offering an invaluable step into a career for young people and are good for business.

Denise Smith (age 20), a Construction Plant Apprentice, is just one of many young learners who recently completed her Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Plant Operations at the East campus of the National Construction College (NCC), Europe’s largest construction training provider. Denise’s expert skill, hard work and determination recently won her the title of top Plant Operative Apprentice at the NCC Scotland annual apprentice award ceremony, beating off fierce competition from many of her male counterparts, proving that being a woman is no barrier to achieving success in a manual role

Denise is a shining example of an apprentice who is succeeding both in business and the classroom. Here we take a look at a typical day in the life of Denise, who lives in Mosstodloch and works for her father’s company, D&M Smith Contractors.

Denise commented: “I usually wake up at around 6.30am and drive to one of the construction sites in Morayshire that I’m working on for 8am. I work alongside labourers so in the morning we all gather with the site manager to take our instruction for the day.

“A typical working day involves driving plant to site and operating diggers, carrying out tasks including working through the rough groundwork after demolition has taken place, digging tracks for cables, trenches for drainage or foundations for buildings.

“My main responsibility each day is to operate the machines in a controlled way ensuring site workers all around me are safe. You must always be aware of health and safety. It’s mostly common sense, wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment. But you need to stay constantly alert and aware of your surroundings. Having good spatial awareness and good hand and eye coordination is important.

“Operating plant doesn’t mean I’m stuck in the cab all day, every day. Quite often I do outdoor manual labouring as well. Although noisy, the plant cabs are comfortable with fans and heaters.

“What I most enjoy about the job is the different environments and different people that I meet. The weather doesn’t bother me, although digging in heavy rain is messy. Even snow is fine, as there’s massive demand for diggers to clear roads and path, especially in Scotland!

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“I usually finish work by 4.30pm so I make sure the digger is fuelled and ready to go for the next morning.

“Despite running in the family, construction wasn’t my first choice for a career, as initially I tried catering and retail work, before deciding I wanted to work for my dad’s business. Even though he could have taught me, it was important to complete the NCC apprenticeship as it provided me with better business awareness, plus all the necessary qualifications, which are really useful, especially as I would like to take over the business when my dad retires.

“The NCC provided me with practical training in how to operate big trucks, forklifts, a nine-tonne dumper and telescopic handlers. The amount of information we had to cover in 12 weeks was challenging, but the course was good as it allowed me to focus fully.

“As well as achieving my Diploma I’ve also achieved my Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card, which enables me to drive plant machinery, and my Construction Skills Certification Scheme card, allowing me to work out on-site, both essential qualifications for my job.    

“I believe that if you want to do something, just go for it. Regardless of gender, never let people tell you that you can’t.”

The National Construction College, is the direct training division of CITB-ConstructionSkills, and delivers quality and affordable courses at eight sites throughout the UK, as well as additional training venues for up to 25,000 learners each year. The College works with employers to provide both bespoke and specialist training, in addition to producing a wide selection of first class learning materials to complement training courses.   

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