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Flat Roofing

Committed to improvement: “You’ve got to be hungry”

by Jennie Ward

Roofing skills and a determination to do well have seen Brandon McGrail-Manning crowned the BMI Apprentice of the Year in the flat roofing category of the 2021 competition. Total Contractor caught up with him and his employer, Kate Whatley of SPV in Walsall, to hear how things are progressing since his victory…

A boost in confidence, a new network of roofing industry contacts and an insight into the business side of a career in roofing; those are the main benefits of taking part in the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition, according to Brandon McGrail-Manning.

“I thought the exercises during the competition were very good, particularly when we had to come up with a business plan and think about the other aspects to a roofing business than just technical skills and the installation of a roofing system.”

Brandon also feels that the presentation exercises were a good preparation for what he will face during his career: customer relations. “They’re putting you on the spot just like customers do, asking you questions like ‘how long a system will last’,” he explained. “That’s one of the things I’ve got from working with SPV, because I’ve spoken at meetings and presentations for schools about the industry and what it offers.”

“You meet the main people in roofing, like the NFRC, and now I’m on LinkedIn these people are looking at and liking what you post and commenting too,” he continued.

Brandon McGrail-Manning was crowned BMI’s flat roofing Apprentice of the Year.

Brandon’s success in the BMI competition was no surprise to SPV Director Kate Whatley. “We felt from the start that he was the perfect person to enter the competition because he’s been confident throughout his apprenticeship and has always wanted to learn. He’s introduced new apprentices to us, and they’ve worked out well too,” she explained.

“Brandon is already a leader”

Kate Whatley, director at spv

A natural fit
Kate reckons that since the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition seeks to find future industry leaders, Brandon is a natural fit. “Brandon is already a leader. He hasn’t even finished his apprenticeship yet but he’s running a large job in Birmingham for Jones Lang LaSalle,” she enthused.

He may be only 18, she points out, but he has already passed his first aid course and his Site Manager Safety Training Scheme, “so, he’s actually a fully qualified foreman,” she added.

SPV is a family business based in Walsall that specialises in refurbishing roofing and cladding in the industrial and commercial sectors and is in three-year frameworks with organisations such as the Co-op, the National Exhibition Centre and Iceland Foods. It employs 100 staff – ten of them apprentices. Kate is responsible for their training and contracted Juniper Training in Walsall to teach slating/tiling, sheeting/cladding and waterproofing.

“We have five cohorts of apprentices training at any one time and Brandon is a fantastic mentor in helping those with less experience”, she explained. “Like BMI, we believe in investing in the future of roofing and our apprenticeship programme provides the company with a pipeline of talent”, she continued.

Kate believes entering competitions like the BMI Apprentice of the Year is part of nurturing that talent, and points out Brandon is not the only apprentice to succeed through working at SPV. For instance, Muhammad ‘Mo’ Farhan, won Young Roofer of the Year in the NFRC’s UK Roofing Awards 2020.

“If you see people with potential you fast-track them. Brandon’s an example that shows other people the opportunities that are out there,” Kate concluded.

Brandon (centre) with the other flat roofing apprentices at the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition.

A great mentor
As above, an honourable mention must go to Juniper Training – and especially Kulli Khossa, Performance Manager, and Paul Austin, Brandon’s tutor – who have taken the raw talent and, along with SPV, have shaped him into the award-winning roofer of today. As Kate explained, “Regardless of Brandon’s innate ability and commitment, and our input, you need an expert hand on the tiller sometimes. Juniper have been brilliant at developing Brandon, especially Paul who’s proved a great mentor to him.”

Kate explained that Brandon is now even more grounded and confident, which is how he comes to be running a site during the week and working on Co-op premises at the weekends. Reflecting on the competition, Brandon reckons it shows that there’s more to life than exam results that so many schools value.

“I’ve passed every test I’ve taken since I left school. I think I’m smart, but I am not particularly academically minded. If you give me a task, I’ll do it, but I just don’t think that academic grades play much part in how you cope in the future.”

For the immediate future, Brandon’s focussed on developing within SPV and gaining recognition in the industry. “I want to progress as much as possible and put my knowledge and skills in different areas, not just on the roof. When you’ve got this skill and experience then you can offer a lot,” he explained.

“You’ve always got to be looking for new opportunities. I presume that Kate, Howard (Evans, SPV founder) and Jack (Chapman, Brandon’s boss) are always thinking about the pipeline of work to come in. You’ve always got to be hungry.”

A bright future
This level of ambition and commitment to the business shows that Kate and her fellow directors have invested wisely in Brandon – and his fellow apprentices – and with the skills and experience Brandon has acquired, it’s clear whatever challenges come his way, he has a bright future in roofing.


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