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Star apprentice soars with Phoenix

Having won a major industry award earlier this year, top apprentice Jack Chubb’s success shows how young people can establish a good career in tool and plant hire if they work hard and seize practical opportunities.

By: Alan Guthrie 

Jack is now workshop foreman with Phoenix Hire and Sales based in South Wales, having originally joined as an apprentice fitter at the company’s Pontypridd depot in 2018. Earlier this year he completed a Level 3 NVQ in construction plant maintenance through Bridgend College, and in the summer he was named as National Plant Technician of the Year (Level 3), not just for Wales, but also for the whole of Britain in the CPA (Construction Plant-hire Association) Stars of the Future Awards for 2022.

Phoenix MD Paul Lewis told me that the apprenticeship opportunity originally came about because of the company’s expanding hire fleet. “The plant side has grown like crazy. We had 30 machines four years ago and now we have more than 300, reflecting customer demand for items like excavators up to 10 tonnes, dumpers, telehandlers and rollers.”

Jack, now 22, saw the role advertised and it appealed to him. “I had done my GCSEs and was considering taking A-Levels at Bryncelynnog Comprehensive in Beddau, near Pontypridd,” he told me. “Being very keen on rugby and athletics, I had thought of becoming a personal fitness trainer or a physiotherapist. And I definitely didn’t want to be tied to a desk job.

“I didn’t know that much about plant and machinery, but I’d recently bought my first car – an old Citroen C2 which virtually came up with every fault code as soon as you started the engine – and had done some work on it. When I heard about the Phoenix apprenticeship, I thought it would be interesting to repair items like the larger equipment you see on roads and building sites.”

As an initial test after their first conversation, Paul asked Jack to look into the course and the logistics of studying at Bridgend College, and to write a proposal saying why Phoenix should sponsor him.

“I obviously knew the College already and the courses they offered,” said Paul, “but I wanted to see how keen and hungry Jack was in getting involved with plant.”

Jack made a convincing case and started on the Level 2 course, with one week of attending college alternating with three weeks at Phoenix to put the theory into practice. Having passed Level 2, which focuses on general repair and servicing work, Jack was keen to do the Level 3 programme which includes problem-solving, fault-finding and opportunities to pursue special areas of interest.

Completing both levels typically takes four years but Jack achieved it in three, which is no mean feat especially since normal classroom teaching was disrupted by Covid-19, with new techniques such as video tutorials being adopted.

Jack was promoted to workshop foreman on completion of his Level 3 and both Phoenix and the College nominated him for the CPA Stars of the Future Awards. He had previously entered on completion of Level 2 in 2020 and had been Highly Commended.

As part of the judging process, tutors and employers give their appraisal of the candidate’s work, aptitude and character, with each entrant submitting a written assessment and a video presentation about themselves.

Throughout his apprenticeship with Phoenix, Jack worked on a variety of tools and plant. His experience also means he can now supervise other apprentices that the company plans to recruit in the future.

Talking to Jack, his enthusiasm for the job and for his employers is quickly apparent.

“In the old days an apprenticeship might have been a case of giving someone a broom to sweep the yard and telling them to make the tea, but it’s obviously not like that now. It’s about starting out on a real career.

“I have a real passion for plant now – I even watch videos of machines on YouTube, look at diggers as I drive past them and read about new products on the internet. And there are so many areas you can branch into, especially with all the technological developments we are seeing on equipment now.

“And when a new machine arrives in the yard, it’s like Christmas Day.”

Jack is also quick to recognise the support he has been given by Paul Lewis and the rest of the Phoenix team, including fitter Eamonn McGrath at the Pontypridd depot who was particularly helpful on a practical basis.

“Eamonn told me that ‘every day is a school day’ in tool and plant hire. And there is a great team here at Phoenix. I’ve made good friendships with colleagues which continue outside work hours, and everyone is willing to help each other, which makes us all more productive. It’s a pleasure getting up to go to work every morning.”

Jack has obviously started out on a great career and his hard work will hold him in good stead for future progress. Following an apprenticeship from school has enabled him to acquire skills without being burdened with student debt, and to earn while he learns.

And that last point brings tangible benefits. Indeed, although he could doubtless fix it himself now, Jack was recently able to replace his old Citroen C2 and all its fault codes with a newer and more reliable Audi A3.

Photo: Alan Guthrie