National Apprenticeship Week 2023: My journey from apprentice to Technical Director

Hear from a former apprentice on the progression opportunities available when completing an apprenticeship within the construction industry.

This week marks the 16th National Apprenticeship Week, an annual event which aims to showcase the positive impact apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses, and the economy.

To celebrate the week-long campaign and promote the fantastic benefits apprenticeships can have, Technical Director and former apprentice, Dale Morris speaks about his role in Homes by Esh, what inspired him to work in construction and how he has progressed since he secured his first role as an apprentice.

It all started at Esh for Dale 13 years ago when he was just 16 years old and fresh out of school. He was given the opportunity to take part in the Esh Connexts programme which was a social value initiative launched by Esh in a bid to help young people better understand opportunities in construction while offering hands-on experience and employability training. This led to Dale joining the company as a Trainee Architectural Technician in 2010.

Fast forward to 2023, Dale, now aged 29, has completed six qualifications and secured four promotions to become Technical Director within Esh’s private housebuilding division.

You started at Esh following a place on the Esh Connexts programme, can you explain how this came about?

All secondary schools at the time had a connexions advisor available to them in readiness for final year students leaving school. Students that had some idea about what they wanted to do would apply to the connexions advisor for them to engage with local companies who were taking apprentices or running apprenticeship courses which related to the job type the student was looking for. Which is what I did.

However, my path was not as straight forward. It all came down to a bit of luck really. Once I left school, I opted to enrol onto an electrical engineering course at New College Durham due to lack of opportunities for architectural based jobs or apprenticeships in the Durham area, and at the time the connexions service unable to find anything either. I then received a phone call from connexions, whilst only two months into my college course, to see if I would like to take part in the Esh Connexts programme and ‘the rest as they say is history’.

How have you progressed at Esh in your 13 years at the company?

I initially started as a Trainee Architectural Technician and through my apprenticeship I studied at New College Durham to complete an ONC (Ordinary National Certificate), a HNC (Higher National Certificate) and a HND (Higher National Diploma) in Construction and the Built Environment. Alongside this, I studied Level 2 and 3 City and Guilds in AutoCAD for two years at Gateshead College.

My early studies took five years, at which point I then enrolled at Northumbria University to complete a BSc (Hons) in Architectural Technology for a further three years.

By building up my qualifications and years of experience in the role, this has led to me being promoted from Trainee to Architectural Technician, to Design Manager, then Technical Manager and now my current role, Technical Director.

In 13 years of full-time employment alongside day release studies it has helped me develop a huge range of skills, including cost control, colleague management, external relationship building and management, AutoCAD, reporting, section agreements and the adoption process, as well as departmental communication. All the while building up a range of knowledge in architectural and engineering details, planning policy, building regulations, Section 106 and legal-related drawings.

Do you think that you would be where you are now had you taken an alternative route?

No, I don’t think so. Over my 13 years at Esh, eight years consisted of one-day part time college or university and four days in the workplace which gave me on-the-job training. Essentially, if I had studied full-time for my qualifications, I would only have five years’ experience by now, instead of 13 years.

Personally, I think you need a lot longer than five years in this type of job role to warrant building up enough of a knowledge base, and the respect that comes with it, to warrant a directorship.

What would you say to another young person who was considering a career in construction?

A lot of construction roles remain unknown to a young person just leaving school or college. It is worth investigating all the different types of job roles before potentially writing off that ‘construction just isn’t for you’. There’s something for everyone in construction as it is so diverse.

Given that my journey to date has been rewarding, I would always encourage the younger generation to get into construction. However, it does take a lot of graft and determination. Given the ever-increasing skills gap, there’s no better time for younger people to join the industry.

What is a typical day at work for a Technical Director? What type of projects do you work on?

It’s a very varied role! I mainly work on standard new build sites, although I have had experiences in restoration and listed building works. My focus is on the architectural, engineering and planning aspects of the job where I am actively involved in all key milestones from inception to completion.

It involves setting budgets and overseeing cost spends on design-led items, I ensure our designs and final build is compliant with building regulations along with planning applications. I also deal with legal teams and solicitors when structuring land deals and new contracts.

Given that my journey to date has been rewarding, I would always encourage the younger generation to get into construction. However, it does take a lot of graft and determination. Given the ever-increasing skills gap, there’s no better time for younger people to join the industry.”

Dale Morris, Technical Director at Homes by Esh