Home Appointments & Contracts Apprentices key to lockdown turnaround, says Bishop Auckland firm

Apprentices key to lockdown turnaround, says Bishop Auckland firm

Megan Cowan, Alex Pickering and Stephen Nicholson of S. Nicholson and Sons

S. Nicholson and Sons, a bespoke decorating firm based in Bishop Auckland, has bucked the lockdown trend and brought in two new apprentices to work as part of its domestic team.

The firm has blazed a trail for apprenticeships in the town, and has recently given new apprenticeships to Alex Pickering, 17, and Megan Cowan, 20, expanding the ranks to 16 full time staff.

Alex Pickering and hails from Bishop Auckland. The apprenticeship has given him a chance to add to the skills he developed helping his dad at home. “I’ve always really enjoyed painting, but never thought that I’d get the chance to do something I love for a living. Even though lots of people are spending more time at home, they are working and feel that they don’t have the time to do a proper job.

“I’m looking forward to building up my skills and moving my career on. It’s giving me a lot of confidence for the future.”

Megan Cowan is from Crook. Megan switched from a beauty therapy course at college to take up the apprenticeship. “This is far more hands on than college, and we get to earn a wage as well! The men on the firm have been really supportive, and I feel a great sense of pride breaking into a traditionally male-dominated industry like this.”

Stephen Nicholson set the firm up in 2008 and is a staunch supporter of apprenticeships. He said: “My heart goes out to young people trying to get started in a career at the moment, what an awful time to be looking for a job. My apprenticeship changed my life and I vowed back then to help as many young people as I could.

“The young people that join the firm get really good and broad experience. At the start of the programme, they get to build their basic skills, assisting our tradespeople in people’s homes. From there, they will get the chance to work on the specialist jobs we do, such as manor houses and listed buildings. It’s two or three years of hard work, but they are never bored, and these are skills for life.”

For Stephen, the apprentices have helped the firm cope with big post-lockdown demand from customers. “When lockdown first happened, work dried up almost overnight, and it stayed that way for a few weeks.

“Then people became used to social distancing and realised that they could get this work done and stay safe. Freshening up the home helps lift the mood, and we can help them get the job done quicker.

“We are now booked up until next year and are already thinking about how we could offer more young people these opportunities. I’d love for others to follow our lead and take a fresh look at apprenticeships because they can transform the life of a young person, and help the firms get through this difficult period without breaking the bank.”

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