Specialist veterans’ charity plans academy near Gosport-Fareham

Karen Jefford of award-winning Building Heroes explained to Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas what the charity can offer military service leavers and their families …

A Queen’s Award-winning charity hopes to open an on-site construction industry training academy near Gosport-Fareham for military service leavers, veterans, their immediate families, and others.

Established in 2014, Building Heroes aims to support military personnel make the transition into the civilian workforce by offering the opportunity to acquire construction industry skills and then helping them to find work.

This year, the achievements of the charity have been recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Promoting Opportunity Through Social Mobility category.

Plans for Gosport-Fareham area

Initially, its five-week long, multi-skill courses were based at education institutions but Building Heroes Chief Operating Officer Karen Jefford told The Globe that the expansion of training provision to meet increasing demand will be via more ‘on-site academies’ that are delivered in partnership with building companies and property developers.

Importantly, she added: “We have been in talks with a major housebuilder which could lead to a Building Heroes on-site academy near Gosport and Fareham, hopefully this calendar year.”

The indications are that it cannot come too soon for several reasons.

Firstly, the nearest Building Heroes centres are currently Salisbury, Aldershot, Trowbridge and Melksham – all a long commute while undertaking a five-week course.

Trainees are expected to fund their transport and accommodation costs. However, Karen Jefford confirmed that for those from a military background, “funding for accommodation may be available” via contributions from other charities including the Royal British Legion, SSAFA and many regimental funds.

Secondly, there is a shortage of construction workers in the UK because, as the Construction Industry Training Board stated in June last year: “Construction has bounced back quicker than expected from the Covid-19 pandemic and the industry will reach 2019 levels of output in 2022.

“By 2025, the industry will need to recruit an additional 217,000 new workers just to meet demand. That’s the forecast of the Construction Skills Network (CSN) 2021-25, published by CITB”.

Locally, several major construction projects are on the horizon: last year, Fareham Borough Council approved the outline planning application for the development of Welborne Garden Village; and – as reported in The Globe – Homes England recently announced its development partner for the regeneration of the 42-acre waterfront site at Daedalus, Lee-on-the-Solent.

In addition, there is government pressure on local authorities – including Gosport and Fareham – to get more houses built.

‘transferable skills of the military are perfect fit for construction jobs’

Karen Jefford described Building Heroes as a, “military specialist charity” though as well as welcoming applications from former military personnel and those within three months of leaving the service, anyone, “over 19 years old and unemployed or from an under-represented group – for example, ex-offenders”, will be considered for entry to one of its courses.

She added: “the transferable skills of the military align with those in construction”, and listed attributes such as working in teams and working with other groups as making a, “perfect fit”.

The courses lead to nationally recognised qualifications such as City & Guilds and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme ‘green card’ for working on construction sites.

The first step for any applicant is to contact the charity – either by telephoning 0330 912 6200, or emailing info@buildingheroes.org.uk – to obtain further information and discuss the options available before moving to a formal application.

Demand for Building Heroes’ training places is outstripping supply – the charity’s Annual report for 2020/21 stated it supported 515 learners during the year but had received more than 1,500 applications.

COO Karen Jefford said: “In the next two years we need to have the capabilities to put through 3,000 learners”, and the way the charity is going to do this will be by increasing the number of on-site academies because they can operate throughout the year as against education establishments which have breaks between term times.

Having completed the course, the trainee can access support in finding employment, going onto specialist training, or becoming self-employed.

In respect of the last pathway, the charity has established a limited company – Building Heroes Property Services – to market the services of trainees so they can overcome the hurdle of setting up a business and identifying potential customers.

Karen Jefford pointed out that, “any money made [by the company] goes into the Building Heroes Education Foundation.”

Despite the pressures of expanding the number of training places and supporting trainees, the charity can savour the significance of receiving the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Karen Jefford said: “When you’re a charity you can get lost but [the award] is national recognition of the work we do for the military – we are passionate to give them life after the service.”

Photograph (top): Chief Operating Officer, Karen Jefford. Building Heroes, reproduced with permission.