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What's it really like?
Stuart Mitchell is the founding owner of Mitchell’s Scaffolding Limited, one of Lancashire’s premier fully-accredited professional scaffolding companies.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I basically started with a small local firm aged 14 because at the time I just wanted to earn some money. I also wanted to work outdoors after I left school. I left with no qualifications, and none were needed for this trade. I enjoyed the challenging aspects of the job and wanted go further in the industry, which is now second nature for me.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of 'exercise'?
Every day is different; it’s the same scaffolding work, but in different locations and with different challenges. I sometimes have a meeting with clients to discuss the job requirements. Sometimes I’m donning the tools and working on site with my staff, or working in the office on quotes and paperwork.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Standard house fronts and house backs, in preparation for roofing work.
What do you like most about the job?
Being outdoors, working with other skilled men, the wages and the variety of the daily work load.
What do you like least about the job?
Dirty areas and difficult clients, lots of travelling, too much paperwork, too much work and no time to complete it!
What are the key responsibilities?
Finding more work when the order book is not full, quoting jobs, meeting clients, organising staff and providing training.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Be prepared to work hard and learn. Scaffolding remains a man’s game for the most part, and wages depend on how good you are. Respect that and watch how to do the work so you can begin to anticipate what equipment is required. This will give you the skills needed, so when it comes time for you to run a gang or take on extra responsibility, you have a good understanding of the job. Always try to work for a company with good credentials that can show you they are good to their staff, and that they work with health and safety in mind. ALWAYS wear your safety gear - hard hat, boots, hi-vis vest and harness - it could save your life.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
Stamina and a willingness to learn. You don’t need to be clever academically, but always listen to instruction.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
Scaffolding is a hard game; to be in the game is no easy ride. You really have to work at it. Get as much training as you can and remember that you can’t buy experience. There is no limit to the game in terms of promotional opportunities, with different paths available to you after you achieve “Part 2” - supervisor, estimator, designer, quantity surveying - the list goes on. As the founder of Mitchell’s Scaffolding Ltd I left school with no qualifications at 14 years of age, set up my company at 19 years of age and now we employ 17 members of staff, we have a ream of scaffolding qualifications under our belts, and we win business contracts from some extremely large clients; we are well respected in the construction industry. You don’t need to be clever academically but you do need drive and ambition to succeed. Be prepared, as working on the spanner tends to end around the age of 45, so position yourself for more advance and less physical aspects of the job by that age.
Also known as...
A scaffolder is a site technician in the construction industry who is tasked with assembling safe scaffolding around or in a building undergoing high-level construction or reconstruction.
A scaffold is a metal interlocked assembly which allows construction crews to work at height on a building or structure. The most common form is the one routinely encountered on domestic properties, but they can range in size up to absolutely immense forms on some large commercial jobs. It is basically a modular assembly of metal tubes of fixed lengths, although the application of it is bespoke to the property being worked upon. It is the scaffolder’s job to put all the pieces together to form a safe and effective work platform.
The job notably requires the candidate to be comfortable working at a significant height from the ground, so those with a fear of heights need not apply! Scaffolding work can be a very effective entry point into the building trade; the scaffolding industry is now heavily regulated and has a positive stance on ongoing Continuous Professional Development (CPD) by way of numerous courses and qualifications.
The standard entry point for unskilled and unqualified scaffolders is as a site labourer with a scaffolding company. Labourers working in most areas of construction are typically paid at minimum wage. In the UK, this is currently £5.93 per hour for workers aged 21 and over, £4.92 for those in the 18-20 age category, and £3.64 for young workers aged between 16-17 (source: DirectGov UK). Hourly rates rise with each qualification and the level of responsibility, and can rise up to approximately £30 per hour, depending on the role and exact skill set and supervisory conditions.
Many scaffolders who begin as labourers require no qualifications at all, and often, new candidates are able to procure labourers' positions without experience. The scaffolding industry is very pro-development, with a variety of different courses available to develop the skill set and experience of the candidate. CISRS (Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme)-carded operatives who have completed height training are allowed onto site.
There are various options for progression in this professional career by way of the NVQ recognised qualification: Basic Scaffolders Part 1 (NVQ1), Basic Scaffolders Part 2 (NVQ 2), Advanced Scaffolders (NVQ3) and also the Site Managers Safety Training Scheme (SMSTS).
Scaffolding is classified as a high-risk occupation due to the constant need for working from high platforms. Even in the construction industry (which is generally assumed to have a high-risk profile generally), scaffolding (together with roofing) remains prone to significant (or fatal) injury. Scaffolding technicians working in teams must be aware of each other’s actions at all times and maintain a strong sense of positioning and responsibility.
Scaffolders who are expected to work on larger commercial projects will have additional responsibilities placed upon them in terms of legislative requirements. All scaffolding companies must have public liability insurance to continue to trade with affiliation to the professional associations. Personal protective equipment should be worn at all times, as it may mitigate serious injury during a fall (this includes a hard hat, hi-visibility vest and harness).
New entrants are usually expected to join as site labourers, as this will give effective “on the job” training to candidates who lack qualifications or experience. Industry associations are very vocal on expressing their focus on CPD (Continuous Professional Development), and there are several in-industry courses to allow the candidate to advance.
Candidates can gain experience whilst on the job, as they set about working on a variety of different types of structure. Some specialise in church repairs, for example, and this can be a good way for scaffolders to differentiate their particular skill set within the industry.
For those with 5+ years of experience who have advanced to head technician or site leader position, the hourly rate (and sometimes bonus and overtime rate) can improve massively, so it pays for the candidate to drive themselves consistently towards learning, training and developing their net skill range.
Many scaffolding companies operate locally or regionally, but there are some which have a nationwide service; these tend to focus on high-yield commercial scaffold builds. Lyndon Scaffolding lays claim to being “the largest privately owned specialist-scaffolding contractor in the UK.”