Whitefriars Housing Group is a collective of three housing firms that formed in September 2000 to manage more than 19,000 former Coventry council homes.

The group decided at the outset to develop training programmes that would enable local communities to benefit from the employment opportunities created by the group’s five-year refurbishment programme.

In partnership with its main contractor partners Lovells Partnership and Wates Construction, the group devised an apprenticeship programme targeted at young people from deprived estates in Coventry. Neville Wells, regeneration manager at Whitefriars, explains:

“We wanted to reach out to youngsters who wouldn’t normally consider an apprenticeship because they had had little schooling or a history of getting into trouble with the authorities. The apprentices needed a lot more support than you would normally expect to give.”

The youngsters were put on an 18-month course to bring them up to NVQ Level 2 in building maintenance operations; Wates and Lovells provided them with on-site experience and the promise of a job after the apprenticeship was completed. Much of the training and assessment was carried out on site. Classroom teaching was held in local colleges. Six of the apprentices achieved their NVQ in August 2004 and were employed by the partner contractors (see “A school leaver’s story”, below).

Whitefriars’ maintenance department will take on more apprentices next year, but for 2004 the group recruited six adult painter and decorator trainees. “Ideally, we’d like to train adults [usually 18 to 25-year-olds] one year and school leavers the next. It’s important to recognise that older people need opportunities too,” says Wells.

Whitefriars’ adult and apprenticeship training schemes are part of the social landlord’s commitment to Sustainable Training for Sustainable Communities programme, to which 16 housing associations have signed up. The programme was launched in November 2003. Each housing association has committed itself to providing local people with training opportunities.

According to Wells: “Sustainable training means promoting diversity and respect for people in all work sectors. Construction is the driver of the scheme but the programme also involved things such as providing childcare, supporting those learning English as a second language and improving people’s IT skills.”


Partnerships with the Housing Forum, Construction Industry Trust for Youth (CITY) and the Prince's Trust have resulted in opportunities to enter the industry for thousands of young people. The SSA aims widen coverage of these schemes by delivering them through government projects like the Thames Gateway.

The Tomlinson report

Vocational training received a boost with the publication of a government report on 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform by Mike Tomlinson in October. It placed vocational education at the centre of its recommendations for improving standards and assessment in the UK. Its key recommendations included:

  • The introduction of a diploma that would, over time, bring all existing academic and vocational qualifications within a diploma framework.

  • Apprenticeships to be linked to the diploma system through clear progression routes and eventually to be fully integrated into the reformed framework.

  • Employers would have a voice in developing these routes.

  • Young people would study a range of academic and vocational subjects, and would have to satisfy clear national standards in basic skills (written and oral communication, numeracy and IT).

  • Existing courses such as GCSEs and A levels could become components of these diplomas, but are likely to be partially or wholly phased out in the longer term (over 10 years).

The government will set out a detailed response to the report in the form of a white paper in early 2005.

A school leaver's story

Before joining Whitefriars' building maintenance apprenticeship scheme at the age of 16, in 2002, Patrick Dalton washed crates at a warehouse. The work, he says, was boring but he didn't feel he had other options because he had no qualifications.

He was persuaded by Whitefriars representatives to join the apprenticeship, a decision that has helped him "change for the better". He says, "I was in a lot of trouble before and this has given me the opportunity to make something of my life." Patrick, now 18, says the emphasis on training on site in various trades including tiling, plastering and carpentry has suited him. "As an apprentice, you are constantly working and picking up new and useful things every day. I like the fact I am working five days a week and being assessed on site," he says. And he's positive about the future:

"I have ambitions now. I want to get four or five years experience and then set up my own business."