April 5, 2020

Award-winning apprentice helps Middlesbrough firm plug the skills gap

British Woodworking Federation member, ERW Joinery, champions National Apprenticeship Week (3rd to 9th February 2020).


Since he decided to undertake a woodworking apprenticeship, Bailey Donkin of Middlesbrough-based firm ERW Joinery, has won a national industry award and developed the skills and expertise that have set him on his way to a long and successful career in the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry. 

His employer, ERW Joinery, has a structured apprenticeship programme and plans to significantly increase the number of apprentices it employs in 2020. The business believes that such an approach is the best way of tackling the skills shortage faced by the industry.

Bailey Donkin, ERW Joinery

Bailey and his manager, Phil Tye, explain how they believe that an apprenticeship route benefits apprentices and companies alike, and how the structure it provides enables apprentices to identify their strengths and flourish in a creative and innovative sector.

Working on prestigious projects

Bailey Donkin joined ERW Joinery in 2017 following the collapse of Carillion, where he was training to be a site carpenter. Since joining the firm, Bailey has been involved in a number of prestigious projects including the restoration of timber windows and doors at Auckland Castle and, most recently, the refurbishment of Manchester’s London Road Fire Station.  

Bailey said: “I’ve always enjoyed and been interested in woodwork – even before school, I used to help my grandad who was a carpenter. The industry has so many different parts to it and lots of exciting projects that you can be a part of, which I don’t think many people know about.

“At the moment I’m working on a job replacing windows from the 1800s in London Road Fire Station, it’s a major £250k restoration project for Manchester, and I’m part of it, which is an amazing feeling.”

Bailey has since completed his NVQ Level 2 apprenticeship and is now progressing in his NVQ Level 3 apprenticeship at Redcar and Cleveland College. In November 2019, he took home the Apprentice of the Year award at the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) Awards for his outstanding work, creativity, and importance to his company.

Phil Tye, Operations Manager at ERW Joinery and Bailey’s mentor said: “Bailey has a natural talent but works so hard to learn new skills which means he continually meets high standards.”

On-site experience

Bailey and Phil both believe that on-site experience is essential in building industry skills.

Bailey said, “Being on site, you learn more than you would being in a college course full time. There’s more than just the theory of joinery. On a site you need to know how to work with other trades and leave it ready for the follow-on trades, while being able to problem solve. From college you assume simple things – like all walls being straight and level – but in restoration projects they rarely ever are, and you need to ensure a quality fit and finish.”

Phil adds, “Experience on-site and within a joinery firm not only allows access to experiences that college courses can’t access, but it also helps a business shape an individual to specific specialisms and niches. An apprenticeship is the beginning of a journey and we hope that our apprentices continue their employment with the company, beyond their apprenticeship, to continue to learn and progress in their chosen careers.”

Securing the future of woodworking and joinery manufacture

Bailey is one of six apprentices currently employed by ERW Joinery and there are plans to hire a further four apprentices by the end of the year. 

Phil explains, “At the moment, school leavers are unaware of the opportunities outside of university and the career paths available to them within the woodworking and joinery industry. As a result, our sector is facing a significant skills shortage that impacts our ability to hire experienced joiners, operatives and carpenters. 

“By welcoming the next generation to our profession, at ERW Joinery we help ensure the future of the business in the hope that apprentices become full time employees while also supporting the broader industry.”

ERW Joinery is just one of many BWF members that support the future of the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry by providing apprentices with a positive environment and training for them to progress into a successful career. 

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation said, “Apprenticeships are the stepping-stone into our industry, and are essential for recruiting the next generation of talented individuals to our creative profession. 

“We work closely with our members, education partners and other stakeholders to maintain and develop apprenticeship standards to ensure that they remain fit-for-purpose. This approach is vital as innovative new technologies and manufacturing techniques continue to place new demands on skills, training and continuous development in the sector.

“The BWF’s work on apprenticeship standards is part of a wider approach to skills and training that we’ll be placing a major focus on in 2020 and beyond, targeting three key areas – talent attraction, apprenticeships and leadership development. Through the upcoming launch of our new education programme, WOW I MADE THAT!, aimed at inspiring students in Years 9-12 to get into woodworking, we continue to champion apprenticeships as the next step on a positive and progressive route to a rewarding and diverse career.”

For more information on the rewarding career paths available in the woodworking and joinery manufacturing industry visit www.bwf.org.uk.