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Liam’s Construction Journey – from apprentice to Australia and boomerang back again

In this, our very first podcast episode in the Demystifying Apprenticeships series, Rubitek's founder and CEO, Kerry Linley enjoys catching up with one of her apprentices.

Liam Deane, now an experienced Site Manager with Farrans Construction talks about how he left sixth form part way through his A levels and did a construction management apprenticeship instead.

He talks about some of the challenges he faced as a young site supervisor, how his training enabled him to travel the world and earn a living, and the many multi-million-pound projects he's had the great privilege of working on so far.

Demystifying Apprenticeships with Kerry Linley is a podcast that blows the doors open on apprenticeships. We invite you to laugh with us, cry with us and learn from the practical advice on offer from those who live and breathe apprenticeships.


Kerry Linley: Welcome to Rubitek Talks brought to you by Rubitek Solutions with me, Kerry Linley. This podcast blows the doors open on apprenticeships. It aims to bust myths like, "apprenticeships are just for young people", or "you can't go to university if you do an apprenticeship" as I interview a range of guests who tell their own apprenticeship stories.

Kerry Linley: So welcome, Liam.

Liam Deane: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Kerry Linley: We met how many years ago?

Liam Deane: Uh, I would have said it would be about 2012, 13.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. So about, yeah, about eight or nine years ago. And I was part of the team at TrAC that originally employed you to start your construction management apprenticeship. Tell me, why did you want to work in construction?

Liam Deane: At that point in time, I was actually working for a builder. So, I left school and I didn't really know what I wanted to do to be honest.

Kerry Linley: Like most people.

Liam Deane: Yeah. And then I started working for my mate's dad, so we were just, um, building extensions, building houses and it was something I realised that I was enjoying it, I wanted to go into more, and I knew I was sort of okay on the tools but probably wasn't very good, but I liked all the technical side of things. So, um, I decided to open avenues, looking into this. I also had an interview with British gas.

Kerry Linley: I remember that. I do remember you telling me yeah.

Liam Deane: That's how I got into it to be honest.

Kerry Linley: Okay, so, when you left school, did you do GCSE's? Did you stay on and do A-levels?

Liam Deane: Yeah, I did my GCSE's then I started doing sixth form, so got the first year doing my A-levels, but to be honest I was never really that good in the classroom. So, I left halfway through because I wasn't enjoying it. I picked subjects as well that I wasn't really, I picked them for the sake of picking them, not because I actually wanted to do nothing with those subjects.

Kerry Linley: It's a hard one, isn't it? Because you tend to pick what school’s offering, what they can put on that year. So, it doesn't always align with what you're looking for. So, you left school part way through your A-levels. Did you get something called an AS-level? Did you complete the first year?

Liam Deane: Yeah. So, I got 4 AS-levels, but I wouldn't really count them because they weren't necessarily good grades.

Kerry Linley: What subjects did you do? Do you mind me asking?

Liam Deane: Uh, I did: Biology, Psychology, P.E. and, uh, business studies.

Kerry Linley: I'm sure you will have found a use for all of those things in your career at some point.

Liam Deane: Yeah, I would have. I wanted to do something, to do with business to be honest with you. But yeah. Biology. I was terrible at, Psychology, it interested me the idea of it, but when I got down to it, I wasn't very good at it. And then obviously P.E. Is just a bit of fun. So.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. Keeps you fit. Um, so you chose Construction Management, was it called Construction Management back then?

Liam Deane: Yeah, Site Supervision, I think it was.

Kerry Linley: Yeah, that's right, and it's got a construction management qualification attached to it. Hasn't it?

Liam Deane: Yeah, yeah.

Kerry Linley: How did you go about finding the vacancy?

Liam Deane: To be honest I was just sort of browsing once I realised I wanted to change what I was doing I was browsing through and like I said earlier like I had those job interviews with British Gas - found this one as well, but I just sort of went for the interview. It was quite a simple process really, bit lucky, if anything, the two things jumped out at me and luckily one stuck.

Kerry Linley: Well, lucky for us because, um, we went on and completed your apprenticeship and had quite a successful career, which we'll talk about in a minute. But you had to do the CSCS test before you were accepted onto the apprenticeship. So can you tell us what the CSCS test is for any listeners that don't know.

Liam Deane: It's just basically a card where you have to, you get, once you've completed a test, which will test your knowledge on health and safety, different aspects on a building site, just to make sure everyone that comes to the building site has the basic knowledge of how a building site should be run. What's the right things to do. What's the wrong, wrong things to do, make sure you're not doing the wrong things on site. Um, it just gives you that bit of nowse before you get there, so, you know exactly what's going to happen.

Kerry Linley: Right. So, it's not a qualification, but it's a card that says you have a level of awareness before you go onsite around health and safety. Um, and I think it stands for Construction Safety Certification Scheme. Is that right?

Liam Deane: That's right. Yeah.

Kerry Linley: See, my memory is not fading me yet.

Liam Deane: Not just yet. To be fair, I think I would have struggled with that!

Kerry Linley: I think that's what it stands for. I hope it is, I'll have to look it up afterwards. Do you have any words of advice for anyone else studying for the CSCS test?

Liam Deane: To be honest, as long as you revise for them, there's booklets that will help you. All the answers are within that. So, if you just go through those booklets, they'd be sure to be okay with them. They're not hard tests, they're multiple choice, it's not like you have to explain stuff as long as you go through all the booklets they give you to make sure you know what you're talking about, then you should be all okay to pass it!

Kerry Linley: Okay. Um, I think that it's a touch screen test. Isn't it? That you do at the same place that you do your driving theory test.

Liam Deane: Yeah, that's right. Like I said, it's just multiple choice. Four questions on each one. And some of them are pretty obvious. So, once you, uh, but only once you really read what you need to read, otherwise they might not make sense.

Kerry Linley: I think someone said to me once that there are four options that you can choose from two of them, you can discount straight away. And then the other two are quite similar. You've really got to read it to see the difference. Okay. Well, that's, that's good advice. Um, your apprenticeship, so, I remember your interviews actually, and we got you signed up and you started on a placement. Who was your first contractor?

Liam Deane: Morgan Sindall.

Kerry Linley: So, you started on placement with Morgan Sindall. What did you enjoy most, being on site? Or being in learning and going to college?

Liam Deane: To be honest, like the four days on site, the experience that you gained from that, because you felt like you were learning every day and you were seeing things how they worked, things started to make more sense when you're there. That's definitely the part of it I enjoyed most. I was never good in the classroom anyways. So being onsite, being practical was definitely the way that I learned more than say sat in the classroom.

Kerry Linley: And how did it help you? I mean, I can imagine it would give you an oversight of things coming together, so you could see why doing one thing, you know, digging the foundations and how that has an impact on the rest of the project. So, you can see the whole thing coming together.

Liam Deane: Yeah. 100 percent. Obviously, you, you start off with a program and then that's when you first start, as an apprentice that's a big load of waffle to you, really, because you don't understand it. But then as you start seeing the days, weeks roll by and then realising on each line, how it works and what’s the next stage and you start to get a better understanding of it, obviously that helps massively being able to be there and see how that works. And then obviously you with whatever you're learning in college at the same time, or even when I went on later and did my Uni erm, everything that you're doing relates to what you're doing on site. So, for example, say you are pouring out the foundations, you’re learning at Uni about the different types of foundations, how long the concrete takes to cure etc. so, your technical side’s getting better while your practical side’s getting better at the same time.

Kerry Linley: So, there's a real benefit to actually studying the subject and applying it in practice on site.

Liam Deane: Yeah, of course.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. Okay. Um, I want to go back to your very first day on site in your new role. So, there you were, were you 18, 19?

Liam Deane: I think I was 20.

Kerry Linley: 20. Okay. So you were, you were a young man, 20 years old, and you're about to go on site for the first time. And I can imagine that there would have been lots of other people on site with, more experience and here turns up Liam, 20-year-old, construction site supervisor. How did you feel on your first day?

Liam Deane: I was, uh, petrified to be honest with you.

Kerry Linley: Were you?

Liam Deane: Yeah. Cause because I'd worked on building sites before I know how some people can behave, especially on building sites. So, yeah, I was really worried about not being able to sort of get the respect off people who do have more experience or older than me. So, um, yeah, I was nervous about that, but once you're there and if you're working hard, you start learning stuff and people realise you actually know what you're talking about. And the respect just, it falls down straight away.

Kerry Linley: And did you find that you had a lot of support being an apprentice? Um, particularly from the management team?

Liam Deane: Yeah, so I remember the first couple of days when I got there, I had a site manager, I was just sort of shadowing him, but then every time, uh, he'd always give me a bit more responsibility throughout the weeks. Um, and as it went on, the more that he started to trust me, the more responsibility that I'd get, so he looked after me well to be fair.

Kerry Linley: Okay.

Liam Deane: There was just, there was two of them on site to be fair. It wasn't just one of them. So, each of them had like a separate block and each of them were giving me different tasks to do on their block. And then they started getting me into, um, looking after sub-contractors, even though the small ones, but just so, that's how I sort of developed and learned.

Kerry Linley: Okay. And what would you do when you were looking after the sub-contractors?

Liam Deane: Just obviously organising the works, making sure that what's going on was right. The health and safety, the inductions in the morning when they came to site, reviewing their RAMS - so their Risk Assessments and Method Statements - um just sort of a lot of tasks that might be a bit fiddly, but it's stuff that you need to get right first before you can realistically let people on site or get going.

Kerry Linley: Mm. So, your subcontractors, would they be the guys doing, the guys and the girls sorry, doing the different packages of work on site, so: plastering, bricklaying.

Liam Deane: Yeah. So, yeah, because we did a lot of internals, but based in that school, by the time I got there, it would have been, say your flooring, your steel workers and I remember we were installing handrails, your plasterboard, your painting. Yeah.

Kerry Linley: Okay. And part of your role as a site supervisor was to manage the overall project and presumably be part of the team that made sure it came in on time and on budget and that all of the relevant, different trades were on site at the right time, doing the bits and pieces that they needed to do to get that project finished.

Liam Deane: Yeah. So as my role was based with the two guys above me, they would um, that would be their main roles, and I'd be there to assist them with whatever they needed help doing, those kinds of things say they might, they would obviously do all the technical sort of drawings side of it, but the day-to-day organisation and the health and safety checks, etc. etc. That was all down to me.

Kerry Linley: Okay. And did, did you manage to bring that project in on time and on budget?

Liam Deane: Yeah, we did. To be fair. That was my first one and I remember it, it was just before Christmas so there was a mad rush just before Christmas and working silly hours just getting it over the line.

Kerry Linley: But you did it.

Liam Deane: When you work in construction, you find it, that that happens a lot of times.

Kerry Linley: Yeah, but a nice project to cut your teeth on.

Liam Deane: Yeah, it was good to be fair. Looking back on it. There's lots of different stuff going on. So, it wasn't a simple project, though, there was a, um, when I first arrived, there was a lot of different subcontractors, there so, obviously you’re worried in the sense of weather tightness and then once you get internally, that's where you start picking up pieces and then really realising how things start sticking together.

Kerry Linley: Did you ever have to have any difficult conversations with any of the sub-contractors as an apprentice in those first few months?

Liam Deane: Yeah, I suppose a lot of health and safety stuff where people weren't doing the right things of what they should be doing, following their risk assessments and method statements which are, which a lot of times got a bit like, "there was this guy talking to me, just a little apprentice", but, um, but you still have to have those conversations because it's not what they are meant to be doing. Um, yeah, I'm just thinking about the daily conversations. I have like that now.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. I don't suppose it changes really, does it? It's just your experience has grown and your confidence has grown, but you’re still having the same conversations. Looking back on your time as an apprentice is there anything you wish you'd done differently?

Liam Deane: I wish I'd have concentrated more when I was at college and realised how much the technical side while I was doing that would affect my practical. Like I always thought sort of - and you'll remember at Morgan Sindall they weren't my biggest fans by the end – but it’s because I was too focused on doing practical instead of the technical.

Kerry Linley: Okay. So, let's just touch on that then. So, you completed your apprenticeship. Um, you achieved your apprenticeship, didn't you, you qualified?

Liam Deane: Yeah.

Kerry Linley: Um, was there a grading system? Was it like pass, um, merit, distinction or was it just pass, fail?

Liam Deane: I think it was pass, fail I think, yeah.

Kerry Linley: Okay, so you passed your apprenticeship, you achieved your qualification. Um, talk to me about the opportunity that you had, because I know it didn't go as well as we might've liked with Morgan Sindall. So, talk to me around that and how that might have impacted your, your confidence or your thought process.

Liam Deane: Uh, well, I remember when it happened that, um, I was pretty sure, obviously once I've completed my apprenticeship, that I would be offered a job anyway afterwards. Um, then obviously that didn't happen, for certain reasons.

Kerry Linley: It came as a bit of a bit of a surprise. Didn't it? If I remember rightly.

Liam Deane: And, um, yeah, I was shocked about it to be fair, but if anything, it probably gave me a good kick up the backside, shall we say to make sure that I had more work to do and needed to knuckle down a bit harder. And, um, the next opportunity I got, I didn't want to mess it up to be honest.

Kerry Linley: And so, Morgan Sindall decided not to take you on, on the back of what you were just talking about with college. So, they felt that you should have been, um, more focused on the college side of your apprenticeship and as much, um, I'm not going to say more so than the practical side on site, but as much as the practical side on site.

Liam Deane: Yeah.

Kerry Linley: Okay. And that's what they, that's what they felt you hadn't done in equal measure.

Liam Deane: Yeah.

Kerry Linley: So, then you moved on to, where did you go next?

Liam Deane: Bouygues.

Kerry Linley: Bouygues - that's right. Was that in Hertfordshire?

Liam Deane: Yeah, it was down in Hatfield. Hertfordshire University

Kerry Linley: And how did you find that?

Liam Deane: It was great - I got there and instantly they were sort of finishing up phase one of the project, so that had a big push to get that finished as well. So, instantly they put me in there, gave me my own block so I had to look after works for the block so, I was sort of chucked straight in at the deep end, which I kind of thrived on um, and then once we got that over the line, we went to phase two and started doing a lot of drainage and external works, which I hadn't done before. So obviously that widened my knowledge, it was, um, a good experience which I enjoyed because obviously I was learning completely new stuff and not doing the same thing over-and-over again, and just went further and further with them. They kept moving me to different projects and gave me more and more responsibility every time. So, it was great. I loved it, to be honest.

Kerry Linley: So, a little kangaroo told me that you spent some time in Australia.

Liam Deane: I did indeed.

Kerry Linley: So, what took you there?

Liam Deane: To be honest, I'd done three and a bit years with Bouygues and I knew loads of my mates that had been over there, and I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So, I sort of spent a bit of time traveling around South East Asia, India, and then moved to Australia to live out there for a bit. And luckily enough, because of all the experience I had working with both companies before, I managed to get a Site Manager role out there as well.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. I think, I think they're quite respectful of the tradespeople that go over from the UK, aren't they, they value the skill set. So, you literally started traveling without, um, without a job.

Liam Deane: Yeah.

Kerry Linley: But you had a trade that you knew you could take around the world with you really.

Liam Deane: Yeah 100 percent.

Kerry Linley: Okay. And you spent a few years in Australia where you, you met your now lovely wife, um, and worked on a few projects over there. So just tell us briefly the sorts of projects that you were working on - in the sun.

Liam Deane: Yeah, no, it was lovely weather over there. I did a couple of different projects I worked on, the first one I started working on was a, there was a 10 story, um, it was an old age care home. So, it was very, um, like privatised. So, it was high spec. and my role there was to be an internals manager, so I came sort of when they'd just sort of finished the first five floors of the concrete frame and then we kept building up, but I came in to then just start the internals from the basement and go further up with that. After that I moved down to Melbourne and got a job with an internals fit out company. So, we converted a warehouse into an office space, which was good fun. It was a fast-track project, so it was only about three months but erm it was busy every day, like, and it’s a complete, like, the projects that I'm working on at the moment are spaced out over a very long period of time because they're huge projects, but this one was smaller, but because it's smaller the money's less so they condensed the program and it’s a very quick turnaround. So, it will take a while for say on this project for you to start seeing differences, like say every three months where, you've taken something from nothing to fully completed in three months in that kind of sector state, it was good fun.

Kerry Linley: Yeah, that's the difference between a big, big project and a smaller one. Where did you like when you were traveling? Where, what, what was your favourite place?

Liam Deane: Uh, I loved – the place I'd go to live is Melbourne. I loved living in Melbourne.

Kerry Linley: It's a lovely place isn't it? I've been a couple of times. Yeah.

Liam Deane: I loved it. I would've quite happily stayed there, but my Mrs is the boss, so I had to come home.

Kerry Linley: I think just the lifestyle and the family life and the socialising after work, you know, they, they work hard and play hard. That was my experience anyway.

Liam Deane: 100 percent. Yeah. And obviously you'd have blue skies every day.

Kerry Linley: Yeah. Most days. Um, did you ever find any Huntsman spiders crawling out of your air vents in your car?

Liam Deane: Yeah, to be fair when I was over there, I went and worked on a solar farm in the Outback for a couple of months so, when we were over there we had our inductions and the guy was sitting there going, “Oh yes, so by the way, there's brown snakes in the sands, there's tarantulas, Huntsmen, we've got funnel web spiders and everything.” So, I was just laughing through this induction. He was like, no, I'm serious. Then you'd see them every single day.

Kerry Linley: Really. Scary stuff. I remember the first time that one came crawling out of the air vent in the car and my cousin just put her foot up on the air vent and started screaming while she was driving. It was just like, please concentrate on driving.

Liam Deane: It's not good is it.

Kerry Linley: No. So, you've achieved quite a lot, really in a relatively short space of time. Um, how many projects have you now worked on? Construction projects.

Liam Deane: I think a total of eight. At the moment.

Kerry Linley: Okay. Um, have you ever tallied up the value of all of those projects?

Liam Deane: Err, to be honest with you, it’d probably be about £500 million.

Kerry Linley: Its impressive stuff isn't it and looking back to, the, you know, the day when you decided to drop out of A-levels because you weren't enjoying it and it, you know, you'd worked out that it wasn't for you. Did you ever imagine that you would have this kind of career and you'd manage these projects, and you'd go to university?

Liam Deane: When I first dropped out, I didn't believe that at all, no to be honest, because I was a bit of a lost soul and didn't really know what I wanted to do. So, when I started working and started enjoying what I did and started realising that there's a lot of progression here and how far you can go, then I started to believe it, but the day that I left, I decided not to go back to school then no, I never. I never thought I'd definitely be out working in Australia or on different projects, etc.

Kerry Linley: It's quite exciting stuff. So, um, the podcast theme is demystifying apprenticeships. When we talk about demystifying apprenticeships, that's all about the misconceptions that people have about apprenticeships.

Liam Deane: Yep.

Kerry Linley: So, you know, a typical one would be: "apprenticeships are only for young people", "you have to be aged 16 to 24" which is completely untrue. What one question do you wish you'd had the answer to before you started your apprenticeship?

Liam Deane: What I wished I had known is how much an apprenticeship helps you with your site like your experience on site and how they say that in your head, like, an apprentice will take ages to train up and become like where they need to go. But like with me, I've had all the help that I needed to especially going this way with the, the apprenticeship work on site and then support with my college, my university later on. So, I wish that they would let you know about that before, because it's a scary thing to go into an apprenticeship. But, um, because you don't really know enough about how the system works.

Kerry Linley: And is that, is that because you weren't given the information as a, as an option while you were at school or why didn’t you know much about it?

Liam Deane: I don't think it is sort of an option at school. They push so much for A-levels and university and that sort of route, where apprenticeships normally are just seen as just trades and labour but there’s obviously a lot of other things you can do with apprenticeships, it doesn't just have to be trades and labour, it can be lots of different things. So, I think the fact that they don't explain that to you when you're in school, they just try to make you think about your university choices or where you want to go there. That's sort of why you don't know enough about it.

Kerry Linley: So, it's a really good answer, Liam. You went to university, didn't you?

Liam Deane: Yes.

Kerry Linley: Have you got any university debt?

Liam Deane: No, I don't actually.

Kerry Linley: And that's because you did an apprenticeship at university, is that right?

Liam Deane: So, like the same way the apprentice, like when you start your apprenticeship you do at college. When I moved to Bouygues, they did four days a week and paid for a HNC, which is a sort of Higher National Certificate or something, which is a sort of a foundation degree, and that was in construction management so yeah, they paid for that, paid for me to work and then no debt! So great. Great stuff.

Kerry Linley: That's fabulous. That's great. So, you've essentially got your degree education, no debt, you’re managing multi-million-pound construction projects and presumably having a great time doing what you love.

Liam Deane: Yeah, 100%.

Kerry Linley: Last two questions for you. Um, what have been the three best things about doing an apprenticeship? If you can think of three things.

Liam Deane: Um three best things? I would say obviously getting to work on so many different projects – learning about so much, every day is different, every project’s got its own, um, different qualities, so being able to gain a vast amount of experience, doing different things, has always been good. Um, obviously like we just said a minute ago, your paid courses, your college courses and your HNC, they were all done (paid) for me. So, I didn't have to worry about anything really. It was all set up for me to go, which helped massively and in an apprenticeship its basically the start of your career. So, you start in sort of maybe at the bottom of the food chain, but there's so much progression and easy to work up that it helps massively by being able to just be on site all the time.

Kerry Linley: Fab! Okay. And the three worst things? There's got to be some golden nuggets in there!

Liam Deane: Obviously. Yeah. Obviously, the money isn't that great to start is it? But obviously then that comes out of your college fees as well. So that's one thing. Um, it's obviously, as I said earlier, it's scary when you're onsite, it takes a while to sort of, earn peoples respect when you first get in there. Um, and I only had two written down, to be honest, so.

Kerry Linley: Well, that's not a bad thing then is that if there were only two things that you could think of that were the, out of the three worst things, two is not bad.

Liam Deane: Yeah.

Kerry Linley: Any final words of wisdom?

Liam Deane: Uh, to be honest with you I'd highly recommend doing an apprenticeship because it worked out brilliant for me, like, um if I'd of had the option to do it at school I probably would have done it, but if I'd have known more about it, it's helped with my career progression massively. So, like, um, they give you a lots and lots of experience, lots of, um, different projects to go to lots of different, uh, courses that there is available. So, it's just, I'd say it's a great idea to be honest.

Kerry Linley: That's really fabulous. Thank you so much, Liam. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Um, and I look, I look forward to continuing to follow your career as you progress.

Liam Deane: Perfect, thank you very much!

Kerry Linley: Lovely thank you!

This has been a MonkeyPants Productions podcast.

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