National Apprenticeship Week 2024: From goalposts to the construction site

Catching up with Quantity Surveyor Zak’s journey from football to the construction industry.

When 18-year-old Zak Boagey was released from Hartlepool United, it marked the end of his boyhood dream to play football. But, an Esh Group recruitment drive was to provide a career pathway he hadn’t previously considered.

As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024, we catch up with Zak, now a 29-year-old Quantity Surveyor on being discovered by Esh, the importance of having a back-up plan outside of sports and how he’s made the most of the apprenticeship route to carve out a construction career.

Hartlepool native Zak was football mad as a child and was snapped up by Middlesbrough Football Club’s academy aged seven, where he trained twice a week. After being awarded a football scholarship by the Riverside Stadium outfit at 16, he was partway through his second year when he was sent out on trial to Hartlepool. Three weeks later, he was awarded a professional contract. However, managerial changes were to shift Zak’s career trajectory and he was released 18 months later.

He said: “When I was released from Hartlepool my sister got me two months of paid work at an engineering firm as an administrator. My sister was a quantity surveyor, and in-between carrying out general admin, she showed me some of the day-to-day tasks within her role, which I assisted with.”

But it was a journey back to a former home – the Riverside Stadium – that set Zak’s new career pathway alight when he came across a firm that was passionate about providing opportunities to help young people break into the construction sector.

He added: “I spoke to the Esh employees in attendance and handed my CV in. I landed an interview and was offered a job, starting my apprenticeship in August 2014. I started as an apprentice on a two-year course and in my second year I was given my first project to run, a small kitchens and bathrooms replacement scheme across the North East. I also took on the responsibility of Aftercare which involved cost reporting, paying subcontractor invoices and invoicing clients for any recoverable costs.”

Six apprenticeship courses – at Hartlepool College and New College Durham – and three promotions later, Zak is now a Quantity Surveyor within Esh’s affordable housing division, where he routinely manages large-scale new build schemes ranging from £1.5 million to £19 million in contract value.

He said: “At Esh Group, I’ve been fortunate to have good mentors who took time to train me. The progression was gradual starting with understanding the basics of a Quantity Surveying role and giving assistance on certain tasks to my mentor.

“Throughout my development, I have learned different skills, responsibility and knowledge and continue to learn – the industry doesn’t stand still. I have worked on a variety of schemes so far, many of which were formed under different contracts and each project differs in terms of the scope of work and property specification, so you learn about the different construction methods involved.”

Commercial Manager for Esh’s affordable housing division, John Wilson, said Zak’s development even opened his eyes to the benefits the apprenticeship route offers. He added: “Zak’s been with the company now for just under 10 years and he really is a testament to how a chance opportunity can lead to a fully-fledged career route if you are determined to succeed.

“Zak has been a perfect addition to our team and watching him develop through multiple promotions alongside his studies has been great to follow. He’s a credit to the company and we’re excited to see how his career continues to grow.”

From having zero construction experience when starting out as an apprentice, Zak has been able to thrive and after overcoming a difficult period in his life, has some key advice for other footballers who face a similar journey to his.

He said: “While it was naturally hard to take, being released was good for me in the long run. The margins for success in football can be very small so it’s important to have a back-up plan. Even if you don’t know what career path you may be interested in pursuing, it’s important to be prepared in case you don’t make a career in sport.

“I would say entering the construction industry has been a good experience and career choice for me. There are ups and downs, like with any job, but since I joined the construction industry, I’ve had a good sense of job security working for Esh and you gain a sense of satisfaction when you are involved in a scheme from the start and get to see the end results.

“Working hard to gain as many qualifications as possible gives you a good starting point to explore different options that may be open to you. It’s important to be open minded and be prepared to adapt to what life throws at you. It can be a bit of a shock at first going from a sporting environment such as a football changing room to, in my case working in an office environment, but I’ve never looked back on how things have turned out.”

The margins for success in football can be very small so it’s important to have a back-up plan. Even if you don’t know what career path you may be interested in pursuing, it’s important to be prepared in case you don’t make a career in sport.”

Zak Boagey, Quantity Surveyor