If you’ve worked in construction training in Manchester in the last 20 years, chances are you’ll have crossed paths with John Dearden.
John recently announced his retirement after two decades as an apprenticeship tutor and NVQ assessor. We couldn’t let the occasion slip by unnoticed so, instead of a Rolex timepiece, we’ve given him a blog post.
DMR: John, we’re gutted that you’re leaving us. What prompted this decision?
John: It’s the whole ‘life’s too short’ thing. I’ve been in work continuously since I was 16, and I’m at a stage now where life outside of work is more important to me. Retirement gives me more time for family. I’m very fortunate that both my parents are still alive, and I’d like to spend more time with them now they’re in their dotage. And to put it bluntly, I need more time to do other sh*t, if I’m honest!
DMR: You recently turned 60. So, this is the swansong on a 44-year career in construction and training?
John: That’s right. And I’ve always said construction training and assessment has a shelf life of about 20 years. Getting into training is an ideal career move for a 40-year-old – that’s the age I started at. At 40, you’ve picked up enough wisdom in the industry to pass on to others through teaching.
DMR: What did you do before 40?
John: I worked as a plasterer for 25 years. At 16, I’d wanted to stay on at school with the goal of becoming a quantity surveyor. But my O-Levels weren’t brilliant, and I didn’t quite have the grades for sixth form. I saw a vacancy in the local paper for a plastering apprenticeship and decided to apply. Back then, a trade was a ‘job for life’. Older people would say: “you’ll never be out of work as a plasterer”, and they were right. In fact, the only period I’ve been out of work was Covid furlough just before I started at DMR.
DMR: Why did you choose to get into teaching and assessment?
John: At 40, I was ready for a career change. During my years in plastering, I’d worked with at least six or seven apprentices, teaching them on the job and helping them get along.
In 1977, I’d been lucky enough to serve my own apprenticeship under a top bloke who taught me a lot. In the construction industry, knowledge is key. And passing that knowledge on from generation to generation is priceless.
Moving into teaching and assessment seemed like a natural choice.
I started off tutoring plastering apprentices at Mancat College in Manchester before moving into NVQ assessment with Skills Solutions (now The Growth Company).
DMR: Last week, we announced your retirement in a social media post. We wrote: “it’s hard to measure the positive impact [John has] had on thousands of construction careers but describing it as ‘significant’ would be an understatement.” It must be satisfying seeing the transition youngsters go through, from wide-eyed school leavers to fully-fledged construction workers.
John: When I first started out in training, I taught apprentices who now run their own construction firms. There have been times when I’ve needed to update employers on the progress of their apprentices. And when I’ve turned up for that first meeting, a door’s opened and someone’s stuck their head out and said: “Alright John! How you doing mate?”, and it turns out the employer is someone I taught 10 or 15 years ago!
DMR: During your career in training, you’ve done both apprenticeship tutoring and onsite NVQ assessment. What’s the difference?
John: Working with apprentices is about guiding someone from ‘no-skills’ to full competence; from a sapling to a tree to use an analogy.
In NVQ assessment, you’re helping competent workers gain the qualifications they need to advance their careers. A lot of construction workers slipped the net with the apprenticeship scheme, or it just didn’t work out for them. And some kids have no interest in apprenticeships – they don’t care much for qualifications, and they just want to get out into the world, learn a skill and start earning money. They go through a learn-as-you-work process and gain their skills and experience that way. But what they don’t have is a formal qualification to back it up. That’s why onsite NVQ assessment is important. It makes sure everyone has a route to a qualification, regardless of the path they’ve taken.
DMR: Looking back at your career in construction, is there anything you wish you could change about the industry?
John: I feel like plastering has been de-skilled since I did my apprenticeship. When I was a youngster, we learnt everything about the trade – we did it all! These days, training is focused on a specific area such as boarding, skimming or taping and jointing. Obviously, that’s down to the constantly changing demands of the industry. But I think it’s a shame that the full range of skills is rarely taught these days.
DMR: If this chat is the final act of your career, we’re honoured. We wish you the best of luck in retirement. What do you have planned?
John: Getting out and about – up hill and down dale! I like hiking (I’m a big fan of Northumberland). I’d like to have a few holidays when possible. And like I said earlier, spending more time with family is top of the list.
DMR: Thanks John, and Merry Christmas
John: Merry Christmas