Building a new construction business with Skills Bootcamps

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Steve Huxley is a self-employed construction professional, based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. He made a late career move into the sector in 2020, having built up his building experience and industry contacts over a number of years. When he saw the offer of free CAD for Construction Skills Bootcamps with HBXL, he recognised a great opportunity to develop his design portfolio.

By his own admission, Steve’s background in the construction trade is “very non-standard”. As he explains: “I spent much of my career in the recruitment industry, both in permanent roles managing teams for large organisations and as a contractor. Then one day I decided to change course and follow my dream.

“I have always had a creative inclination and enjoyed doing DIY and odd jobs for other people in my own time. I’ve worked on all sorts of projects, from basic decorating and tiling, through garden landscaping and building raised decking, to completely renovating a large property. That has helped me to build up contacts who trust me and encouraged me to get out of recruitment and get on with what I enjoy doing for a living.”

Steve took the plunge three years ago, initially doing some work for private clients. He then had the good fortune to get in with a small local building firm that wanted to sub-contract some work. “They have kept me really busy since then, with time for only occasional bits of private work in between their projects.”

One thing that Steve knew he lacked was the ability to turn his ideas and sketches into technical drawings. “It’s surprising how many people will quickly move from talking about a small job to talking about one that is larger and more ambitious. I was always sketching out ideas for them on pieces of paper but had no way of commercialising my suggestions, yet people were still going ahead and building them.”

Upskilling to improve employment opportunities

Then, in September 2022, Steve came across details of various Skills Bootcamps organised by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (New Anglia LEP). These receive funding from the Department for Education as part of its Skills for Life programme to upskill the UK’s workforce. As such, they are free to individual learners, whether starting a new career or returning to work, including the self-employed and sole traders – which makes them ideal for people like Steve.

“There were a few Skills Bootcamps that I thought looked interesting but the CAD for Construction course provided by HBXL jumped out at me. I had wanted to be an architect when young but the seven years of study had put me off. I regret that decision slightly now because I thoroughly enjoyed learning these new skills – particularly since I could gain some of that architectural design capability in just 16 weeks.”

HBXL specialises in developing software for SMEs in the construction industry. As HBXL’s Managing Director, Joanna Mulgrew, explains, “there is a real need for these skills in the industry, particularly in small and medium sized construction firms.” HBXL is currently working with CPJ Education, an experienced training company, to run various Skills Bootcamps for three regional authorities including New Anglia LEP.

Learning on the job with real-time feedback
Steve signed up on a Monday in September 2022 and started on the Wednesday. “I had to make space in my diary but I was keen to jump right in and not wait for a later course. With 60 hours of online tutorials (two half-days a week), plus project homework, it’s quite a time commitment but you cover a lot of ground.

“It’s particularly challenging if you work for yourself. I often worked all weekend either to catch up on my other work, or to do my portfolio project work, or to redo lessons so as to embed what I had learnt. It was exhausting, as you have to throw yourself into such things to make the most of them, but I’ve no regrets and would definitely do something similar again.”

Being able to do the course over a number of weeks meant Steve could not only fit it in with work but also put his learning into practice straightaway. “I was looking at building an extension on a small property that I own and so was able to use the CAD to produce several different designs. It was great to be able to discuss this work with our course tutor, Tom, who did an excellent job of mentoring us.”

Supporting the construction sector
HBXL’s other construction-related Skills Bootcamps go beyond the purely digital to include training in core management skills. These include Building Information Modelling (BIM), calculating profit margins and overheads, effective quoting and contracts, managing cashflow, presentation skills, and health & safety. “This is all practical, straightforward information,” says Joanna Mulgrew, “and we know it is essential for ambitious business owners who want their firms to survive and thrive.”

As Steve says: “The team treat you like professionals – this is not like going back to school. The tutors are really supportive and make each session interesting and enjoyable. Their ongoing support is also superb, with a career mentoring session every month for six months where we can discuss ideas and challenges.

“I can already see how to use what I’ve learnt in my work – although I have been so busy since finishing the course that I’ve not had a chance yet. These new skills enable me to offer additional, higher value services to my customers. At the same time,” he concludes, “they will enable me to move into doing more profitable design work.”

If you want Skills for Life, email [email protected] today for news of our latest Skills Bootcamps.

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