National Apprenticeship Week: Virtual work experience

As part of this year’s National Apprenticeships Week (8– 12 February 2021) Bristol WORKS have delivered an International Virtual work experience in partnership with Bell Group UK and Black Professionals in Construction for students to access.

Students from Bristol and the UK have worked together in teams with young people from schools, colleges and universities across Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe on an exciting, interactive, week-long construction challenge. Pupils have been involved in all aspects of research, design, building and marketing and have had guidance, input and expert advice from a range of industry professionals. This has been through live Q&A sessions, interviews and industry insider films as well as exposure to the virtual reality behind construction showcasing the vast range of careers available in the construction industry. Students have had opportunities to learn and develop a range of technical abilities and key soft skills such as team work, problem solving, decision making and resilience as well as presenting and pitching a project they have worked on.

Today’s blog comes from one of the students taking part – William from Oasis John Williams in Hengrove.

Hi, my name is William and I was part of the virtual work experience week, working with Bell Group UK, Black Professionals in Construction and Bristol Works. During the week, I learnt core values on how to treat people in a working environment and how to work in a group to achieve a common goal. l listened to Craig Bell CEO of Bell Group UK and a number of professionals talk about the pressures of their jobs and how they’ve overcome them, especially during Covid-19; in the hope of forming a pitch to start a big project. 


I was welcomed by the three groups of professionals and given a taster of what they all did and even reached out to Ghana, to one of the professionals out there! It was interesting hearing about different jobs I’d never heard of before. We then watched a video to see what Bell Group UK were about. After that we were shown our project challenge, the aim to pitch an idea to a panel of experienced ’investors‘ if you like at the end of the week. Once we had been briefed, we got put into breakout rooms. This was a separate call where we got to know our groups of about 5 students and just shared a few things about ourselves in an ice breaker session. We then got together with the whole group and made our code of conduct rules. After that we spoke to Lisa Long from Balfour Beatty and she went through the challenges of the work site as Site Manager and how she coped with being a figure head in a male dominated profession. 


We started the day with our breakout rooms and another ice breaker session, I was slowly getting to know the team I was working with. We then went back into the main room and met the first professional that was coming in to do a talk. His name was Joe Shaw from PPG. It was a very interesting talk to listen to, he seemed so humbling and like he loved his job. I came away from the talk, realising that simple things like a pot of paint; goes through so many different specialist teams, just to be put in front of you for you to use. We then moved onto the industry insight session. There were 4 different people who came and talked however out of the four, Kobi’s talk just stuck in my head. He used a saying that I loved. He said “never lie, massage the truth but never lie.” This taught me to always be truthful and to respect the colleagues you have around you. Later that afternoon we did speed interviews. I was shaking maybe due to the cold, but also because I was nervous. However, doing the one to one Interviews, I felt a little bit more comfortable as I had picked up tips and tricks from the meetings earlier in the day. This was very beneficial as I quickly calmed down and answered the questions in a relaxed manner. We found common ground in me being from Bristol and the interviewer having actually done work on my school (Oasis John Williams) which was really important to break the ice and made me comfortable. Doing it made me think about how I answer questions and has made my confidence improve hugely. It also developed my ability and self-belief in myself to answer questions calmly and rationally when asked. 


We had two people come in and talk to us about themselves. Lee Hamill from Bell Group UK took most of it, talking about what he values in a person in an interview. He then went on to discuss how to cold call someone and how to be savvy when speaking to customers. Lee and Jane Roberts (also from Bell Group UK) ran through some role plays and it was interesting to see how to react in different scenarios. We then had Craig Bell (CEO of Bell Group UK) come in for an hour to talk to us about his job and how he made it up from a little place in Scotland to CEO of a national and hopefully in the future an international company. He also gave little tips and answered our questions in detail which was very helpful in mind of the project and he is for sure a very good role model for a lot of young students – reminding us that you don’t have to know what you want to do in order to succeed, as long as you have determination and drive you can make it anywhere! We then moved onto working in our groups. We spent the afternoon going over the project and details regarding the cost especially.  


 We started the day with professionals coming in and talking about their background and possible industry careers for young people who are looking at the construction industry. A bit later in the morning we had some apprentices come in to talk to us about their background and their struggles. One of the apprentices Claude N-Sala, was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. He gave me a massive insight on how difficult some people’s life’s can be – how he never gave up with the situation he was in, he also made me realise I should never give up, whatever the challenge. I wish him the best in where he’s going and I hope he reaches his dream one day. We then moved onto Annette Bell (Co-founder of Bell Group UK) with George Bell. She talked to us about how she managed juggling family and owning a company. This was interesting as she’s such a strong role model and was very inspiring for all working parents! She took her family as priority over her work, she put her family before her wellbeing which was very commendable to see the commitment she showed to her livelihood. Later that afternoon we started composing the big project and really finalising how it was going to look and how we were going to present it.  


We are due to present our final overview of the project in a pitch, a bit like on Dragons Den. It is so good for my self confidence and belief that I can start and finish a project in an eloquent and professional manner. 

Overall this week has taught me to believe in myself and never cave in and give up when times get tough. Whether that’s when being interviewed or maybe not being able to complete a task or even when giving a presentation. I would like to thank everyone who gave me this opportunity and who have worked so hard to make it happen. I have grown so much during this last week and hopefully I can only improve! All my thanks to Bell Group UK, Black Professionals and Bristol Works for this amazing week! I would highly recommend to anyone if this program runs in the coming years! 

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