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James' story

James saw an apprenticeship with Canal & River Trust as an ideal opportunity to learn life-long skills.


Why did you want to do an apprenticeship with Canal & River Trust?

I'd always had a keen interest in canals, having grown up opposite the then derelict Huddersfield Narrow Canal and witnessed as a young person its restoration in 2001. It fascinated me. I went on several years later to volunteer with a charity based on the Calder & Hebble providing community boat trips. I worked the locks, piloting boats and got very used to being on the water and working around canals.

For me, an opportunity to work with Canal & River Trust, especially one where I could learn lifelong skills was an absolute ideal opportunity! I joined the Trust back in September 2014 as a Waterways Heritage Trainee coming in with effectively no practical skill and no real prior construction knowledge.

When the traineeship finished those of us on the scheme were offered an apprenticeship and I jumped at the opportunity. As a Heritage Trainee, I realised the importance of the work the Trust did and how vital and needed it was. But also, and probably most importantly for me, I'd discovered that I really like the work and the Trust as a whole.

What kind of work did you get involved in as an apprentice?

As part of the construction team I worked on the bank rebuilding wash walls, bridges and fences in the summer, and working on the locks replacing lock gates in the winter. It was fascinating and the variety of work was incredible.

I would say my favourite part of the job apart from the sheer variety of work, was working in the locks seeing what interesting items we found in the bottom when we drained them!

How have you been able to progress your career since finishing your apprenticeship?

When my apprenticeship finished, I was offered a fulltime position in the Trust as a Craft operative Stonemason that allowed me to continue doing a job I really like.

In 2021 I was offered the opportunity to take up post as a Kickstarter leader, managing a group of eight young people on universal credit through a six month kickstart scheme teaching them practical skills on our canal in Burnley.

It was difficult making the transition from a Craft Operative to a Kickstarter leader. I'd done some people managing outside of the Trust - volunteering with Duke of Edinburgh's Award - but nothing on this scale.

Being the sole leader of initially eight young kick-starters for a period of six months proved to be an interesting challenge. Managing their day-to-day, finding work for them, sorting out annual leave requests, dealing with sick leave and disruptive behaviour, it was all a lot of small everyday challenges. I was well supported throughout but sometimes it's just you there on the ground. It's hard when faced with these situations.

I preserved however and despite everything thrown at me I feel like I did an alright job. I ran the scheme for six months and carried ultimately seven young people through five months of the programme.

I taught them practical skills such as wall rebuilding, wash walling, fencing, working with clay, boating and much more, a lot of which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. It reminded me of all the hard work that so many people put into me teaching me similar skills back when I was a waterways heritage trainee.

What do you think you would be doing if you hadn't joined the Trust?

If I wasn't working at the Trust I can honestly say I have no idea where I would be. I would be far less skilled that is for certain!

I have learnt so much at the Trust - practical skills and people skills - that you simply could not gain just anywhere else. I'd have probably ended up working in retail, which now on reflection, I'm very glad never happened. I much prefer working outside on the canal using my hands and practical skills along with teaching others how to use their own practical skills too.

What would you say to someone thinking about doing an apprenticeship with the Trust?

Go for it! It's not always the easiest place to work because its outside in all weathers (snow as well) and the work can be cold, wet and very muddy, and very challenging on occasion, but I've always found despite all this that the positives outweigh the negatives.

The people are on the whole great people to work with and the work, despite the challenges, is very rewarding at the end. You also learn great lifelong skills, many of which are transferable, and some other specialist skills which can be very valuable in other walks of life.

You will certainly make many friends, have a good time and a good experience whatever apprentice position you end up in. Even though it could be challenging, the rewards are worth it in the end.

Last Edited: 07 February 2022

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