A few months ago Oscar Miller won the flat roofing category of the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition. Roofing Today went up to North Lincolnshire to find out what makes an award-winning apprentice and the difference the award has made.
Oscar Miller has a strong competitive streak yet winning this prestigious award as flat roofing BMI Apprentice of the Year has not so much changed his ambitions as confirmed them. “I entered the competition because it would give me extra experience and knowledge that I wouldn’t get if I didn’t go. I thought if I won it would be a massive achievement – there’s only two winners each year – and the fact that I did was another box ticked,” he says, “It was fantastic.”
Oscar, 18, works alongside 11 colleagues at The Roofing Corporation, the business established by his father Chis six years ago and his success has sharpened his appetite. He now has other roofing prizes in his sights, including a crack at winning an award at SkillBuild and even entering the BMI Apprentice of the Year again, but this time aiming to take the pitched roofing title. “To win it twice would be quite an achievement,” he reckons.
Oscar found the whole process behind the competition very challenging, this competition differs to other competitions as it focuses on the skills needed to run a roofing business. “It was completely different to what I’m used to. There was a lot of talking to people one-on-one, discussing business plans and what you’re going to do and what you’re trying to achieve,” he says. “You’d be dealing with people who are really high up and then talking to the same people later as if they’re your customer.”
With this competition focusing on soft skills, Oscar commented that it was as much about being able to express yourself clearly to clients and building professionals too. This was a point that did not escape Oscar’s father, Chris, when he came down to observe the competition at BMI UK & Ireland’s Training Centre in South Cerney.
“I must admit I was a bit negative at first because there seem to be a lot of these sorts of awards; but when I saw what Oscar had to do to get through to get to the finals and then what he had to do to win I recognised it was a very good award,” he says.
This opinion is shared by Oscar’s college, the Leeds College of Building, where it seems a matter of policy to enter the competition. “I encourage all our apprentices to enter the BMI Apprentice of the Year because, if they get through to the shortlist, they’ll mix with other apprentices from all over the country,” explains Oscar’s tutor, David Mallory. “Then, if they win or are highly commended, they have something to staple to their CV. We really rate SkillBuild and we’ve been enormously successful there, and we’ve done very well at BMI Apprentice of the Year.
For Chris Miller, the skills and approach that the competition tested were completely in line with his own approach to The Roofing Corporation. “Other competitions are about roofing skills whereas this is about business acumen, problem solving and social skills. That’s where a lot of colleges and employers fall down – they teach the trainee how to do the job but not how to run the business, how to hold themselves in the correct manner.
“And that’s crucial for a business like us where we deal with a lot of very high net worth individuals. That’s our core business and the team are all geared to deal with them and those situations.”
Chris describes The Roofing Corporation as a ‘family business’ and describes himself as ‘team leader’ rather than its owner. During his 32 years in the roofing business Chris has trained a lot of apprentices and seen them come and go so, six years ago, he adopted a more radical approach. Rather than simply handing the business on to his son, the business will eventually be owned by all its employees – and there are 12 of them at the moment.
“I’m training top craftsmen now, and it’s working. They’re all geared up for a key position and eventually we’ll share responsibilities. They will take this business over when they’ve gained enough experience, so Oscar won’t just take over,” he explains, saying it will eventually rather like a co-operative.
“We’re thinking for the long-term, not quite a legacy but we’re planning for a business that will continue long after I’m gone,” Chris says.
His selection process is, he says, extremely demanding. “They’ve got to understand that it might not be the army but once you’re in, you’re in and you’re not going anywhere else.” The message is quite clear – if Oscar had not measured up to this standard, then his dad would not have brought him into the business.
Chris now has four apprentices, one each year, and in each case plans out their training and career path in some detail. Joe Turner is a prime example. In March he was awarded the Mason Elliott Award for roof slating and tiling, and in November 2018 he took gold in the Roofing: Slating and Tiling final of the national WorldSkills UK competition at the NEC Birmingham.
“That didn’t happen by chance,” says Chris. “that was in the plans we made together three years ago. You’re going to get into the final of SkillBuild and you’re going to win. And he did.”
And now Joe’s successor, Joseph Osborne, and Oscar, are on that same path because Chris sees these competitions as essential to their training, providing a benchmark by which they should measure themselves.
Oscar’s success, then, was not such a surprise for Chris – or to his colleagues. “He’s a credit to us all because we all spend our time with youngsters, bringing them on and training them to be well-rounded individuals.”
For his part, Oscar is happy to see his future and that of the business mapped out. “In the future it won’t be just me running the business, but I’ll be working with others and sharing the responsibility for its success.”