Valentine VS Paperwork - Valentine's Story

“I’m just old school, stuck in an old way and paperwork has never agreed with me,” said painter and decorator, Valentine Coleman. We replied to that using an ‘old school’ rebuke: Cobblers! Fifty-six year old Valentine from Ely in East Cambridgeshire is about as skilled as it’s possible to get in painting and decorating. But with years of experience, no qualifications, and a pathological fear of paperwork, Valentine wasn’t enthralled about doing his NVQ Level 2 in Painting and Decorating. We called him on the phone one August bank holiday to find out how it went (spoiler alert: it went quite well).

Hi Valentine. How long have you been a painter and decorator, how did you get into it, and what sort of work do you do?

I was an apprentice to Hollands of Newmarket at 17 years of age, and I was there for three years. After that I went self-employed purely because of all the local work I was getting. Everybody wanted me to do their houses and, with word of mouth, it just went from there.

I was taught in the old ways of doing the job, so I know how to do the lot from glazing and puttying the windows, all through the primers, undercoats, topcoats and I know what to recommend. I know absolutely the best products that you can use and that’s how I was taught because we only use the best and everything has to be the best job possible.

So, you have been working as a painter and decorator since you left school?

Yeah, I went straight into construction. I was a labourer and I had blisters all over my hands, and I said, “how much are your painters on?” And they replied, “£7.00 an hour”. I was on £90 a week, so I jumped on it and said “I’m gonna be a painter!” And that’s what I did. I went and worked for a few years on low wages, but at the end of it, I’m glad I did because I’ve always had work. I’ve been painting all my life and I’ve done everything you can think of.

The apprenticeship that you did – it wasn’t accepted by CSCS to get a card? Was that the reason you did an NVQ with us?

It was so long ago. I haven’t got much of the paperwork now.

So part of the reason you did your NVQ was to bring your qualifications up to date and get your CSCS card?

Yes, that’s right. I still have some old certificates, but the trouble is, I’ve moved 500 times in my life and I’ve been through divorces and all sorts of things get lost.

Valentine showing us his skills!

Apart from the apprenticeship and your NVQ, have you done any other training courses or qualifications over the years, Valentine?

Yes. I’ve had an iPaf license, a cherrypicker license, asbestos awareness…all sorts. I have got some certificates in my box somewhere but being dyslexic, the last thing on my mind is reading anything. And even computers…I’m computer illiterate! Luckily my wife helps me with everything. I’m just old school, stuck in an old way and paperwork has never agreed with me.

You’ve done a mixture of work over the years. How you do feel about big site jobs, now you’ve got your NVQ and CSCS card?

I actually prefer working on the big sites now because they’re so well organised. Many years ago, none of us would touch them because they were awful. But now that health and safety has come in, it’s a different ball game. I actually enjoy working on the building sites but I think there is a skilled labour shortage. The biggest problem I see is that we haven’t got enough youngsters coming through. I don’t know where we’d be without the Eastern European workers.

On my site jobs, we’ve had apprentices come and go. They’ve done six months with us and just said: “no, not for me”. We’ve got to get kids from a much earlier age and I don’t know how we’re going to do it. I think CSCS cards should be an option in schools – learning how to get qualified and get a CSCS card and get into the workplace as soon as they can. Because everyone is crying out for them. Everyone I know is crying out for skilled labour right now.

We’re not all academic: I’m dyslexic so I know all about that. But that’s why I wanted to be the best I could at what I do. And I’ve always had work all my life. If you learn to be good at what you do, you’ll always have work and earn good money in construction.

How would you encourage more school-leavers and young people to consider construction as a career choice?

The kids need to know that there are other options [to further education]. Tell the unacademic kids at school about construction and they might think, “you know what, I can get a good job when I leave school”. Because they could walk straight onto a building site and start earning good money.

Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to move into construction or painting and decorating?

Enjoy what you do, do it well and take pride in what you’re doing. You need to learn from a young age to take pride and respect in what you’re doing.

Despite being nervous at first, Valentine completed his NVQ with flying colours.

If you try it and think, “this is not for me” – hang in there! Give it some time. Get your NVQ. And over time, you will become a really good decorator and you’ll always earn money.

You could then start your own business. In our trade, if you’re good at what you do, it could lead to running your own business. We need to tell the kids this.

Is there an opportunity where they can make money? Yes, there is in construction. If you’re good at it, a manager might say, “do you want to take on a whole contract?” And suddenly you’re thinking, “blimey, I need 20 blokes!” And you’re away!

Have you ever taken on an apprentice yourself?

Not technically.  But I’ve taken trainees under my wing and took time out of my work to say, “look, this is how you do it properly”. I’ve given them my time because I liked the kids and I wanted them to get on. Sometimes apprentices were on site and they didn’t have any experienced workers showing them what to do. So, I took it off my own back to help them.

Back to your NVQ. How did you hear about DMR Training?

Online, I think.

You had a search on Google?

Yeah, me and my son.

Your son’s also a painter and decorator, isn’t he? Has he been doing that since school?

No, he was a chef, but then he realised he didn’t want to work the Friday and Saturday nights.

We can imagine. The weekend shifts are long and gruelling when you’re a chef.

And he was a young man with a load of women on his mind.

Again, we can imagine! Did you have you have any reservations about doing your NVQ? Did you feel frustrated about having to do it despite all your experience in the trade?

Yes, a bit frustrated but I didn’t feel worried. I did think, “what can an NVQ teach me that I don’t already know?”

For extremely experienced and skilled workers, an NVQ qualification is really an assessment process. Many workers do learn a lot of knowledge and skills from an onsite NVQ. But for someone very experienced like yourself, Valentine, it’s mainly an assessment process to achieve a qualification that demonstrates what you can do, without you having to physically demonstrate it to an employer or site manager.

Oh, I understand. It must be a nightmare on the sites with people showing up who are trying to blag their way into a job that they don’t know how to do properly. Employers and site managers must be fed up to the back teeth with that. You got to have some sort of proof like an NVQ so managers know new people coming to site can do the job they say they can do.

We think that’s one of the ways to see it – qualifications make it harder for the cowboys, blaggers and unsafe workers to get on site. Sometimes NVQ assessors will go to assess a very skilled and experienced worker, and that person will think the assessor is there to try and teach them how to do their job. But that’s not the case. An assessor is there to guide you into collecting the evidence that demonstrates your skills and experience. And from that process, you gain a lifetime qualification that no one can question or take away from you. How did you find the assessment process, Valentine? Did you struggle with any elements of the NVQ?

I think the knowledge questions could have been easier to understand. I knew all the answers but first I had to think, “what does that question actually mean?”

Did your NVQ assessor support you with that? How did he help you deal with it?

When I was talking to him, he was very pleasant about it and said, “don’t worry about it  – you’ve got the answers in your head, you know what you’re doing!” I told him I had dyslexia and was having trouble understanding the questions. So, he sat down with me for a while and helped me make sense of them and get through them. He knew that I knew what I was talking about. It just understanding the meaning of the questions at first, but my assessor was ever so helpful.

That’s good to hear. Jon [Valentine’s assessor] is a very experienced assessor. What other activities did you have to do during your NVQ, Valentine?

We took photos and videos while we were working – loads of photos of us working.

In the place where you were working, were any other guys doing their NVQ as well? Or was it just you?

Just me and my son.

How did you film the videos for your NVQ portfolio? Did you get your son to take a video of you working and vice versa?

We had another guy there filming us as we were doing all our preparation and rubbing down surfaces and doing the undercoat and topcoats, door frames and skirting boards, and all of that.

What kind of support did your assessor provide? You said Jon was on the end of the phone when you needed help. Was there anything else he did to help and support you through the NVQ?

Yeah, just helping me understand the questions really. Wording them so I knew what they were asking me.

What do you think about DMR on the whole? Do you feel like we’ve done enough from start to finish to support you with your NVQ?

Despite my reluctance to do an NVQ, everything has been fine. It was good and there were no dramas apart from when I flipped out a bit over the questions. But Jon really helped with that.

Do you supervise or manage in your work at all, Valentine?

Well, I’ve had people working for me in the past. But it all got too stressful. And I thought I’m better off just on my own. But I’ve had to organise nearly every job I go on. I end up having to organise it for everyone. Because I am the one that knows exactly what’s coming and how we should do it – you can’t just do whatever you want, when you want. We have to get some order.

Where do you see yourself going with your career over the next five or ten years? Do you want to retire early? Or maybe do something else one day?

After achieving his NVQ, Valentine was able to get his blue CSCS card.

I’ll tell you the honest truth. I’ve had a houseboat made and now I’ve got the CSCS card, I can travel and just work wherever I rack up. I can just work on any site, anywhere nearby.

We don’t know much about boats – is that like a canal barge?

It’s based on a narrow boat, but it’s called a wide beam because they’re a lot wider, a lot bigger.

Do you live on it? Is that your main accommodation?

Yeah, they’re lovely. Absolutely lovely. I got someone to build it. It’s fantastic.

Somebody built it from scratch for you?

Yeah, you buy it as what’s called a ‘sail away’. You get it as a steel hull and put the windows and doors in. And then you can just sail away. I did all the insides out myself. Being in the building game, obviously I know everyone.

You were able to do all the interior stuff yourself? We’ve never even been on a canal boat before. Are they more spacious inside than they look from the outside?

I’ve got my wife here. Living full time on a boat – no way, I couldn’t do it alone. But having those extra feet makes a huge difference. It’s like a floating apartment. The boat doesn’t move when you’re walking about. It’s nice and solid and strong with loads of room. A narrow boat is too narrow, but you can go on the canal systems all the way up north and all that. On my wide beam, I can only really do the Thames and go down to the South. I’m thinking of going down to Devon and mooring up down there. Then I can work in Exeter and places like that.

When you change jobs or you look for your next bit of work, is that decision based around where you are moored with the boat? Or do you just set sail once you know where the work is?

I’ve been moored up here in the same spot for the last ten years because of my son. I wanted to make sure I could see him. And now he’s a decorator; I’m teaching him and I’m proud of him. He’s picked it up really quickly. He’s been doing it for four or five years now. I’d work with him over anyone because I know that whatever I tell him to do, he will do it well. You can’t ask for more than that.

It’s great to hear that you’ve passed your skills on to your son. You said he was a chef before he got into painting and decorating?

Yes, he was there for a few years after school, and then he decided he just couldn’t do it anymore. And I joked with him saying, “you don’t want to be a decorator, it’s nothing but work!” But I also said, “if you do it, you have to take it seriously. And if you listen to everything I say, we’ll be fine”. And that was four or five years ago.

Everyone knows that in our game, you have to be hands-on decorating. You have to do it every day to be really good at it. There’s so much to know and people don’t realise it. There’re millions of different varnishes and paints to recommend to customers. It’s a minefield of knowledge: knowing how to make a job last for 20 years as opposed to two or three years.

And finally Valentine, what do you like to do outside of work? Do you have any hobbies and interests?

Yes, I’m a mad fisherman!

You mentioned you lived on a boat, so it doesn’t surprise us that you do a bit of fishing as well.

Funny enough though, the fish under my boat are so tame now, they’re pets. I daren’t catch them.

Do you fish on rivers, the sea, somewhere else?

I do a lot of competition fishing. I’m a match fisherman. I like fishing for money.

Where do the competitions take place?

On the Norfolk Broads. On the river Yare – big matches up there. And all on the Great Ouse, through Ely, near me. Yeah, I love it! Every weekend, I’m out fishing.

Is it a year-round thing? Can you do it all year?

Yeah, it is now. Now the lakes are allowed open. Years ago, they had to close because of the rod license. But now if you’ve got a lake owner, you can keep your lake open all year. You just can’t fish the rivers.

We won’t keep you any longer, Valentine. We want to thank you again for talking to us; especially as it’s a bank holiday.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Nice one.

Valentine achieved his NVQ Level 2 in Painting & Decorating through onsite assessment. This interview is based on a telephone conversation that took place on Monday 28th August, 2023.

To learn more about flexible onsite NVQ assessment with DMR Training and to check your eligibility for skills funding, contact us on 01942 673047 or get in touch with us through our contact page.

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