At JTL, we are proud believers in the value of training and retaining young talent, for learners and employers alike, and apprenticeships and Traineeships are a proven way of rejuvenating the building services engineering sector. Although the hard work and commitment shown by our learners plays a large part in this success, the effectiveness of these schemes would simply not be possible without the support offered by JTL’s employers. Given the recent success of our long-time partners, JDL, at the JTL National Awards 2021, where they received a recognition award for their support and commitment to apprenticeships, we wanted to take the opportunity in this case study to discuss a little more what makes companies like JDL such good apprenticeship employers.

Founded in 2007 in Elvington, Yorkshire by James Whelan, Dominic Johnson and Liam Rapp, JDL is a mechanical and electrical building services provider, which specialises in the installation, supply, commission, and maintenance of a wide variety of services in the commercial, industrial, retail, and domestic sectors. Driven by its aims to provide high-quality workmanship and customer service to its clients, JDL is a company that knows first-hand how transformative and beneficial an apprenticeship can be. In fact, all three of its founders are themselves former JTL apprentices.

As Liam Rapp, JDL’s estimating manager, says, “An apprenticeship sets you up for a lifelong career, not only providing you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed within the building services engineering sector but with a trade and a qualification that you can always fall back on. Not only that, but the opportunity to earn as you learn whilst on your apprenticeship gives you a chance to buy your first car or house, essentially giving you that head start on the property ladder or on settling down.”

Having proven their skill and talent over the course of their apprenticeship schemes, Liam, James, and Dominic were subsequently enrolled by their employers onto a building services Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) in the final year of their apprenticeships. A higher-level course designed to help all three learn about the building services industry, the ONC offered Liam, James, and Dominic the chance to progress onto eventual project manager positions. For Liam, Dominic, and James, however, this course afforded them not only an insight into the opportunities within their chosen sector, but, crucially, an awareness of the gaps that existed within the current system.

Reflecting on this, Liam states, “All of us worked hard and took a lot of pride in the quality of service we provided. The grading system, however, in the construction industry at the time didn’t incentivise people to excel, which proved quite unrewarding for all three of us as we were working hard and doing a lot more than others, but were not necessarily seeing that reflected in our pay. That realisation made us start looking at what we could do together– one of the perks of doing an apprenticeship is that it encourages you to take control over your learning and is therefore good at fostering a kind of entrepreneurial spirit.

“To start with we did a few rewires on the weekends for family and friends until we built up enough money to buy the tools and equipment that we needed to start our own business. Upon getting a contract for a small 11 build housing development, we handed in our notices and fully devoted ourselves to working for JDL. Being commercial electricians, we hadn’t necessarily had the chance to work on new build houses before and so had to learn a lot about the domestic sector during those first few months. Given the financial crash that happened the year after, it was definitely a challenging period to set up a new business, but thanks to our collective skill, hard work and perseverance (all things that we think the apprenticeship programme helps develop) we managed to push through and ultimately thrive.”

Now working as JDL’s estimating manager, Liam is largely responsible for managing the business’s accounts and contracts, which includes liaising with clients to win more work, going to tender review meetings to negotiate payment terms, and providing estimations for project contracts. Dominic, as the operations director, is responsible for staff recruitment, procurement of materials and project management, whilst James is the minor works department manager. This is a demanding role which primarily requires James to work with the direct domestic customers and landlords – over 6,000 customers – which make up JDL’s client list.

Over its 14 years of operation, JDL has come to establish its reputation as a highly respected and highly trusted electrical services provider. Growing mainly through maintaining high-quality customer service and work, JDL has recently expanded its small works department by acquiring two other plumbing companies. For Liam, it was their experience on the JTL apprenticeship scheme which laid the foundations for JDL’s growth and development: “Everything to do with running a company like this is a world away from our days as electrical apprentices. Throughout it all, it has been a process of learning as we go, of trusting in our own instincts and taking control of our own progression, all of which was instilled and encouraged in us by our apprenticeships.”

Speaking on the importance of apprenticeships to JDL’s growth, Liam states, “Apprentices are such a fundamental part of the working culture here at JDL. At present, we have 12 apprentices with us, all ranging from those on their first year of their JTL apprenticeship to those in their final year. That comprises just over a quarter of our workforce at 26%. Each one of them brings a freshness and an enthusiasm to JDL which allows us to push forward and succeed as a company.

“Employing new electricians is very hit and miss, as some don’t necessarily work in the way that we would want them to but are generally too stuck in their ways to change. By training someone from the very start, you can train them in the companies’ culture and work practices, which ultimately helps then ensure that these standards and practices are maintained in future workforces.

“To fully help nurture our JTL apprentices, we have one of our project managers to be their apprenticeship mentor, which essentially provides them with someone who they can contact or turn to when they are in need of support or guidance. During my own apprenticeship, I was given the chance to work with some excellent qualified electricians and so know first-hand how beneficial that can be to your learning and how that can actively help you develop your own skill set. To ensure that their training is as comprehensive as possible, we also make sure that our apprentices have the opportunity to work with different trades people, which again helps them develop their skills and knowledge.

“Dominic, James and I are all conscious of how much our own experiences as JTL apprentices gave us a head start on our careers. Therefore, we do our best to give back to the industry by presenting other young people with the same opportunities that we were afforded, which is why we set up the partnership with JTL back in 2009. To have had our hard work and commitment recognised at all is incredibly humbling, but to have it recognised at a national awards ceremony was an incredibly proud moment for us all.”