A young father from Cardiff is finally on his way to achieving his lifelong ambition to work in construction thanks to an apprenticeship with Cardiff Theatrical Services through Sgil Cymru.
Dan Cooksley always wanted to work with his hands. Although not academic at school, he found that he had a talent for making things and excelled in vocational and practical subjects. He especially enjoyed working with wood and hoped to pursue a career as a carpenter.
At age 18 Dan went to college to study carpentry, but when his partner fell pregnant he decided to give up education and go into full-time work to support her and their young children. Over the next 10 years he worked in a series of different jobs including as a mechanic, in call centres and in customer service roles, but never lost his desire to pursue a career in construction.
Now, aged 28, Dan has finally returned to education through the Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship Programme and is well on his way to achieving his lifelong dream.
“I grew up watching several members of my family make a good living from carpentry and I’ve always enjoyed making things with my hands so it was a clear choice of profession for me. Although my situation didn’t allow me to pursue it as a career when I was younger I never stopped wanting to be a carpenter, it’s just taken me a bit longer to get here than I initially thought it would.
“When my partner and I found out that she was pregnant, it seemed obvious that I would leave college and get a job to look after her. It was a shame to give up the work I had already put into my course, but I wanted to do whatever I could to support my family. I tried my hand at a lot of different jobs over the years, but none of them were the right fit for me and I didn’t stick at anything for very long.”
Dan found out about the Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship Programme when one of his friends started work as a Construction Apprentice with Cardiff Theatrical Services.
“I asked my friend how he’d managed to get into the industry and he told me he was on an apprenticeship. It sounded like the perfect solution for me; a way to get into the profession I had always wanted to work in without having to give up earning. At the time they weren’t taking on any new apprentices, but six months later I got a call from my friend to say that they had an opening and I should apply. I was thrilled when Cardiff Theatrical Services offered me the apprenticeship.
“I work alongside a team of carpenters to build parts of theatrical sets that are used in productions all over the UK. We make a lot of sets for our parent company Welsh National Opera and for the English National Opera, and are even commissioned by theatres in America to build pieces for plays taking place overseas. The sets need to have exceptional structural integrity because they need to support the weight of the actors, but they also have to be easy to put up and pack away because a lot of the productions tour across the country.
“One of the most interesting projects I’ve been involved in so far was helping to restore the set that was used in a 1970s production of Madame Butterfly so that it could be used for a new production. One of the carpenters I worked with on this was part of the team that created the original set and it was really interesting getting to work alongside him. I’ve also been working on creating the interior for an immersive, virtual reality theatrical experience for Madame Butterfly set inside a shipping container. Every day is different.
“Every few months I spend a couple of weeks in college. The rest of the time I’m working 9-5 but I still have written work to complete for college in the evenings. It’s full-on, but it’s what I want to do and I’m really enjoying it. Because I’m learning on the job, by the time my apprenticeship ends in September I’ll have the hand skills I need to go straight into another job or even work freelance if I choose to. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from some incredibly skilled people with years of experience. It’s been the ideal way for me to get into the industry and I would recommend it to anyone.”
Ed Wilson, General Manager of Cardiff Theatrical Services, said:
“Dan has been a real asset to the company throughout his apprenticeship. He has a good and mature attitude and has fitted well into the CTS team. He is building a strong skill set and it’s clear that he takes pride in his work. He’s taken a real interest in the processes and challenges of creating theatrical sets and I have no doubt that he has a successful career in carpentry ahead of him.
“At Cardiff Theatrical Services, we’ve had great success with our apprenticeship programme in partnership with Sgil Cymru. Over the last three years we have taken on five apprentices across our three main theatre crafts; carpentry, fabricating/welding and scenic art. We have an aging workforce and taking on apprentices has allowed us to start to develop the next generation and has brought fresh ideas and energy into the company, while the apprentices have benefited from working closely with our existing staff who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on. We take pride in knowing that we’re training a new generation of theatre craft professionals and providing them with the hand skills and experience they need to progress in their careers.”
Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, said:
“Dan is just one example of someone who has a thriving career after securing an apprenticeship. It highlights just how valuable it is to gain practical, on the job experience and how it can provide them with all the skills and qualifications they need to have a rewarding and fruitful career.
“Apprenticeships are a key investment for employers who can train their workforce in the specialist skills they need within their organisation. Overall, apprenticeships play an important role in increasing the nation’s overall skill set and driving economic growth, making sure that Wales remains competitive on the world stage.
“Over the summer, the Welsh Government is working in conjunction with training providers across Wales to highlight 1000 apprenticeship vacancies in organisations from various sectors within small SMEs to larger global conglomerates.
“The job roles available offer all the benefits of an apprenticeship with qualifications to match, and there is a particular focus on improving technical and professional higher level skills. The Welsh Government is rebalancing its investment towards the priority areas that deliver higher returns and the range of opportunities that will be available over the summer reflect this.
“The roles available are open to people of all ages and provide access to high quality training for individuals who want to achieve their full potential. We already have a strong record of quality apprenticeships and our goal is to build on this and offer apprenticeships in sectors that drive growth and prospects of increased earning power.”
For more information about becoming an apprentice, visit careerswales.com and follow the apprenticeship link or call 0800 028 4844. To find out how your business could benefit from recruiting an apprentice, visit Skills Gateway for Business at https://businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/apprenticeships or call 03000 6 03000. Also find us on Facebook www.facebook.com/apprenticeshipscymru and on Twitter @apprenticewales.
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.