Ex-apprentice turned site boss says construction industry is on right track with diverse job routes

A former apprentice in Gateshead who followed his dad and uncle into construction – and spent two years working in the Middle East – says he is encouraged by the variety of routes into the industry.

John Flintoff, project manager at Vistry Partnerships’ Ravensdene Lodge location, off Consett Road, said the wide range of entry positions, from apprenticeships to graduate places, were helping to attract the best talent, including his assistant site managers Hannah Hutchinson and Ross Hogg.

The motorbike enthusiast, who started out as an apprentice carpenter before going on to build villas in Saudi Arabia, added good team spirit had been vital to the ongoing success of Ravensdene Lodge, where 82 one and two-bedroom extra care apartments are being built for those with varying care needs. The development has just achieved a Vistry platinum award for Health and Safety on site.

Grandfather-of-four John, who was one of the last to undertake a specific type of industry apprenticeship, said: “It feels great to have a platinum award for health and safety and that’s testament to our hardworking team at Ravensdene Lodge and the type of people we employ. It’s also fantastic to see the different ways people can get into the industry now, at all ages and in different roles, and that’s reflected in the strong teams we have in the North East, particularly at Ravensdene Lodge. Hannah and Ross are a delight to work with – Hannah doesn’t have a trade background, and Ross was a plasterer, so it’s great to have the different expertise within the team.

“The most important thing is for people to have enthusiasm for construction and a willingness to learn all the time. If you want to be a site manager, you’ve got to be resilient, and to enjoy being at the forefront of decision making. Being hardworking, punctual and good with people, and having strong attention to detail are all important traits for the job.

“My dad was a carpenter and joiner, so was my uncle, as am I. My dad worked his way up to be general foreman, before there were site managers, then to director – he did really well. I started working as a carpenter while at school, during the holidays. I began on site at 16 and then worked for a small building company about eight miles from where I lived. I was an indentured apprentice – one of the very last ones, and I was signed up to a company for the length of my apprenticeship. I’ve still got the indenture papers. I went with my dad to the owner of the company’s house on a Sunday and he signed my four-year indentureship papers. We all signed them, while sat round his coffee table in his front room. I did my City and Guilds training through the Institute of Carpenters, before going on to become an assistant site manager.”

John added his dad taught him to be self-reliant. During the first year of his apprenticeship, he travelled in the car with his dad, who worked at the same site. But in his second year, despite living and working together, his dad told him he needed to get the bus so he knew how to get himself to work.

John worked as a carpenter for a year-and-a-half, going on to shop fit in Newcastle city centre. He thought he could do a better job than the site manager, and so successfully applied for an assistant site manager role, which started his 10-year journey in housebuilding. He said it was having both a housebuilding and commercial background that enabled him to thrive in his current job.

“At the time I thought the best thing to do was to get into commercial building, so I did that – working on offices, shops and leisure centres,” he added. “But then I went on to work in Saudi Arabia for two years, building apartments and villas. I came back to the North East and worked for a housebuilder for nine years, and transferred into social housing. Then I went back into commercial building again, working on leisure centres and doing big office fit outs. It’s the experience that really helps with Ravensdene Lodge, and having colleagues with different backgrounds too, really contributes to our high skill levels.”

Around 60 people are working at Ravensdene Lodge, where a diverse range of tradespeople are constructing office blocks with a catering kitchen, residents’ lounge, coffee bar, hydrotherapy baths and lifts.

Extra care is a type of specialised housing that provides independence and choice to people with varying care needs. The apartments allow for around the clock support and increased independence but also help people to be connected by tackling social isolation and loneliness.

Outside of work, John has a passion for motorbikes and owns a Ducati Streetfighter and a 1971 custom-built Honda CB350. He loves walking and travelling with his wife, Sue, and they have two grown-up children and four grandchildren.